Trouble at Home and Abroad for the Dow

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.

Though it wobbled slightly this morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is on its way up following the worst day for stocks since June. With Syrian troubles inciting calls for action from both the U.S. government and its allies, investors and citizens alike are concerned about the implications of military action. Closer to home, one of the stalwart factors in the country's economic recovery is starting to falter. As of 11:45 a.m. EDT, the Dow is up 50 points, though it may be short-lived.

Why so Syria-s? 
With accusations flying about the use of chemical weapons against its own civilians by President Bashar al-Assad's government, there has been sudden movement from numerous allied countries toward action in Syria. Though no word has come about the U.S.' involvement in a planned military strike, or what the goal of such a strike would be, the situation is certainly escalating quickly, causing concern on both Wall Street and Main.

As with most conflicts in the Middle East, the Syrian issue and consequent concerns have driven oil prices to their highest levels in two years. Not unexpectedly, both Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) are up more than 2% this morning on the prospect of higher gas prices. Both companies have reached new records for capital expenditures in recent months, potentially cutting into shareholder value. Though Syria is not a major producer of oil, any prolonged military action in the region could disrupt the oil supply, sending both crude oil and gas prices soaring. Investors should weigh the risks of potential oil bottlenecks in the region with the benefits of higher prices arising from the conflict.

On the homefront 
This morning's news for the housing market was less than great for investors. Rising mortgage rates have finally proven to be hitting the market with force, as both new-loan application activity and pending home sales fell for their respective periods. Last week's applications activity dropped 2.5% due to higher rates dissuading homeowners from refinancing. The activity for new-purchase loans, however, rose by 2.4%, largely supported by historically low interest rates. Though rates rose 12 basis points last week, to their highest level so far in 2013, the 4.80% rate is still remarkably low by historical standards.

Pending home sales for existing homes fell for the second straight month in July, according to the National Association of Realtors. New contracts fell by 1.3% last month, suggesting that rising interest rates have put pressure on the housing market. The latest report on sales of newly constructed homes also painted a bleaker picture for the recovering housing market, as sales of new homes fell to their lowest point in nine months in July.

Despite declines in home sales, there are a few businesses that stand to conitnue benefiting from homeowners' increased confidence in the housing market -- namely, Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) and its chief rival, Lowe's (NYSE: LOW  ) . The recovery in housing has also been spurred on by dramatic rises in home prices over the past 12-month period.

Consumers who believe that they can increase their home's value often spend more on upgrades. With that in mind, both home improvement stores have been somewhat immune to the recent spate of declining consumer spending that most retailers have been reporting.

With trouble brewing in the Middle East, it may be important for investors to recognize that record oil and natural gas production is revolutionizing the United States' energy position. Finding the right plays while historic amounts of capital expenditures are flooding the industry will pad your investment nest egg. For this reason, the Motley Fool is offering a comprehensive look at three energy companies set to soar during this transformation in the energy industry. To find out which three companies are spreading their wings, check out the special free report, "3 Stocks for the American Energy Bonanza." Don't miss out on this timely opportunity; click here to access your report -- it's absolutely free. 


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