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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.
In recent months, the stock market has done a good job of maintaining its gains even in the face of bad news. But today, most market commentators blamed the rising tensions in Syria as contributing to greater investor recognition of the ever-present geopolitical risk in the markets, and the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) responded by closing near its worst levels of the day, down 170 points. Broader market measures fell even more sharply, with the S&P 500 falling 1.6% and the Nasdaq down more than 2% on the day.
Among the worst-performing Dow components, financial stocks made up three of the four biggest losers. Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) , and American Express (NYSE: AXP ) all fell between 2% and 3%, with general concerns about the future prospects for the economy weighing on the health of their respective recoveries over the past several years. Moreover, legal risk continues to plague the big banks, with Bank of America failing to win the dismissal of a lawsuit alleging fraud against government-sponsored mortgage entities Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Meanwhile, JPMorgan reportedly faces demands of $6 billion or more to settle subprime-mortgage lawsuits from the U.S. Federal Housing Finance Agency. Both B of A and JPMorgan have been diligent in trying to resolve their legal liabilities, but a continual stream of new allegations has seemed to emerge even as the banks get old lawsuits settled.
For AmEx, lawsuits aren't as big an issue, as the company hasn't had to face the liability that major mortgage lenders have dealt with. But the card giant remains vulnerable to economic sluggishness, and heightened tensions could lead to less travel and falling levels of spending, especially among the company's more affluent customer base.
Finally, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) was the other major decliner in the Dow today, falling 2.6%. Investors continue to worry that even a change in leadership won't be enough to bring on the innovative spirit that the company needs in order to reinvigorate its growth prospects going forward. With so much of its revenue still coming from its legacy business divisions, including operating system and office software, Microsoft faces continuing challenges until it can come up with its pathway toward joining the leading edge of technological innovation.