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After rallying more than 110 points in the first few hours of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) couldn't keep up its early momentum, ending the afternoon in the red. While U.S. gross domestic product advanced more than forecasts called for in the second quarter, comments from the Federal Reserve failed to impress Wall Street. Although the Fed expressed concerns over sub-2% inflation -- implying the need for further stimulus efforts -- that sentiment just wasn't explicit enough, and the Dow closed 21 points, or 0.1%, lower, ending at 15,499.
UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) was largely immune to the downbeat mood today, adding 0.8% to lead the index as fellow health insurer Humana reported quarterly results that beat expectations. Humana's success helps confirm a trend of outperformance that other large health-care companies -- like UnitedHealth -- established earlier this earnings season with upbeat earnings of their own.
Entertainment giant Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS ) also stood out Wednesday, gaining 0.7% on news that Hulu, the streaming-video service co-owned by Disney, will begin releasing episodes of its independently produced series all at once. Hulu has 20 exclusive series already in the works for this year. Anyone paying the $8 monthly fee for a premium account will start seeing entire seasons of select shows released on a single day beginning in November.
On the losing side of the Dow, Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ ) posted a second straight day of near-2% losses, falling 1.9%. Telecom again was the worst sector of the markets Wednesday, and Verizon, in particular, may be suffering from a bevy of complaints from its wireless peers north of the border. Canadian phone companies are proactively complaining to the government about Verizon's potential plans to enter the Canadian wireless market through acquisitions. Competing in Canada would be a surefire way for Verizon to increase subscriber growth, but considering the fact that it's already taking heat, those plans may have to be put on hold.
Lastly, American Express (NYSE: AXP ) shed 1.9% today as a district judge ruled that a debit card fee limit imposed by the Federal Reserve was unwarranted, and that card companies had been overcharging merchants billions of dollars since it was put in place in 2011. While AmEx is lucky it isn't as heavily involved in the debit card business as its rival Visa, the company still controls 16% of the market, and with less income per transaction ahead, today's ruling was understandably unnerving for shareholders.
The retail space is in the midst of the biggest paradigm shift since mail order took off at the turn of the last century. Only those most forward-looking and capable companies will survive, and they'll handsomely reward those investors who understand the landscape. You can read about the 3 Companies Ready to Rule Retail in The Motley Fool's special report. Uncovering these top picks is free today; just click here to read more.