Dow Snatches Defeat From the Jaws of Victory

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Throughout the course of the day, financial headlines were upbeat as better-than-expected earnings came in from retailers including Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) , TJX, and Best Buy. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) looked primed to break its four-day losing streak,  but even as the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both finished well in the green, up 0.4% and 0.7%, respectively, the Dow still found a way to end down, closing with a loss of 8 points, or 0.05%.

Despite the end-of-session slide, today was overall a positive day for investors as the promising retail reports reversed a negative trend last week that had the market concerned about waning consumer demand. Oddly enough, Home Depot fell 1.2% in spite of its strong results. The home-improvement chain actually opened 3% higher as the company showed off a 17% increase in profits to $1.24 per share, $0.03 better than expectations. Revenue was up 9.5% to $22.5 billion, well ahead of estimates at $21.8 billion, while same-store sales jumped a whopping 10.7%. The retailer also lifted guidance, calling for a full-year increase in sales of 4.5% and EPS growth of near 20% to $3.60. Analysts had expected per-share profits of $3.64 for the year. Shares seemed to fall despite the strong quarter as investors fear the effects of the Fed's looming stimulus taper, and anticipation of it has already caused benchmark interest rates to climb to almost 3%. Rising rates will push up mortgage rates and discourage homebuying. It's also clear from Home Depot's guidance that it expects last quarter's torrid growth to ease.

Elsewhere on the Dow, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) shares were up 1.1%, the blue chips' biggest gainer for the second day in a row after it got an upgrade from Piper Jaffray yesterday. Analyst Gus Richard bumped his rating from sell to neutral, saying he expects Intel to make a dent in the tablet processor market and that "PCs are not going away anytime soon" as Intel dominates the declining market. With the chip maker already seeing a considerable decline in profits as its core market disintegrates, I'm not sure that I'd consider an upgrade to neutral reason to celebrate.

UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH  ) also moved up 1.1% despite no company-specific news out on the insurance giant. Ironically, today's jump came as reports showed that health insurance premiums have risen just 4% this year, the second straight decline after rates increased 9.5% in 2011 and 4.5% in 2012. That would seem to be bad news for UnitedHealth, which relies on the rising costs of health care to grow profits.  Shares of companies like UnitedHealth and Aetna have jumped by more than 800% since 2000 as health-care costs have disproportionately grown, but If sales are only increasing by 4% annually, stretching the bottom line will grow ever more difficult.  

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