What’s Behind Today’s 105-Point Drop

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.

The release of the minutes from the Federal Reserve's July meeting on Wednesday sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) lower for a sixth straight session as the committee generally agreed that tapering should begin soon. The central bank is now even more widely expected by the market to start pulling back on its $85 billion monthly bond-buying program, an expectation that sent the Dow 105 points, or 0.7%, lower, ending at 14,897. 

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) added 0.4%, one of just three blue chips to advance on the day, after announcing an aggressive pricing structure for the holiday season. The retailer is offering free layaway, plus an ad-matching guarantee, which promises to match sales prices of identical products at competitors' stores. 

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) was another one of the lucky few to gain ground, tacking on 0.4% as the price target on shares of the Charlotte-based bank was raised by Credit Suisse. Cost-cutting strategies were hailed as the primary reason for the new $14 price target. Provisions for loan losses have fallen from nearly $50 billion in 2009 to just above $8 billion last year as the bank rids itself of toxic assets. 

There were plenty of losers today, and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) was one of the biggest ones ahead of the company's quarterly report after hours, losing 1.8%. Unfortunately for shareholders, HP is almost certain to be one of the worst performers yet again tomorrow, as shares plunged more than 5% after reporting sliding sales alongside an executive shakeup. The $27.2 billion in third-quarter revenue amounted to an 8% decline, missing analyst estimates by about $0.1 billion.

Lastly, Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) shed 2% as metals prices trended downward today. Quantitative easing efforts can be a boost to the price of metals, which are often used as a hedge against a weakening dollar. With those same easing efforts on track to be scaled back, metal prices were pressured, and the fact that Alcoa's stock is nearly 90% more volatile than the larger stock market didn't help shareholders.

The U.S. government has piled on more than $10 trillion of new debt since 2000. Annual deficits topped $1 trillion after the financial crisis. Millions of Americans have asked: What the heck is going on?

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