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With financial eyes once again on the Federal Reserve, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) closed down modestly today, falling 37 points, or 0.2%. The Fed's Open Market Committee is meeting today and tomorrow and will report the results of its eight-times-a-year meeting on Wednesday, giving investors the latest insights as to when the central bank may begin tapering its $85 billion monthly stimulus program.
Today, only one economic report was released -- June pending home sales, which showed a decrease of 0.4% from May, but that number was better than economists' projection of a 1.7% drop. Increasing mortgage rates, which have gone up as the Fed threatens to cut its Treasury bond purchases, are putting pressure on the housing recovery. Still, sales are just a hair off the six-year high it hit in May.
On the Dow today, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) led all comers, finishing up 1.2% after announcing it will buy back $1 billion of its shares from French bank Societe Generale, most of which it will purchase immediately. With the global mining industry in a down cycle, Caterpillar has struggled this year, falling last week after a forgettable earnings report that included a guidance cut. The share repurchase announcement would seem to indicate that management sees the stock as undervalued.
Some minimum-wage workers at McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) joined with fellow fast-food employees and walked off the job today, demanding a $15-an-hour wage in a weeklong protest. The minimum-wage issue appears to be gaining traction after the D.C. Council recently passed a law designed to make Wal-Mart pay its future workers there a minimum of $12.50 an hour, and President Obama's recent statement that the widening income gap was damaging the country. McDonald's has also been the target of much derision and mockery since a sample budget for employees, which among other things implies that a worker needs two jobs, found its way to the media. Shares of Mickey D's were unaffected by the strike, falling 0.2%, but the issue will continue to circulate and could become a greater concern.
Finally, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) was the Dow's biggest loser today, falling 1.4%. The motivation for the volatile too-big-to-fail bank's drop seemed to be little more than the decline in home sales, as it is heavily dependent on selling mortgages. Nervousness about the upcoming Fed report may have also contributed to B of A's fall.
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