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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.
August started out so promising with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) hitting a record high on the second day of the month, but four weeks later, the blue chips index finds itself down 5% from that peak, and the broad-based S&P 500 turned in its worst month in more than a year. The Dow finished down 31 points, or 0.2%, to close out August at 14,810. Markets continued to react to developments in Syria, as Secretary of State John Kerry said the U.S. has declassified its evidence of chemical attacks, and urged nations to act against the Syrian regime. Meanwhile, President Obama said he had not yet come to a decision as to what action to take.
On the day's economic docket, reports were mostly positive. The University of Michigan consumer confidence survey improved from 80.0 earlier in the month, to 82.1, topping expectations of 80.0. Similarly, the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index increased from 52.3 a month ago, to 53.0, in-line with estimates, indicating a moderate expansion in manufacturing activity. On the down side, personal income and spending figures for July increased by just 0.1%, showing slow growth in consumer demand.
Turning to individual stocks, Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) took it on the chin today, falling 1.4%, more than any other blue chip. The aluminum manufacturer has already had a terrible year so far, falling 12% while the Dow is up double-digits, and slid more today after a report from JPMorganChase said that a pending decision to cut premiums on the London Metal Exchange would cause two-thirds of aluminum producers to lose money. The expected decision spells more bad news for the aluminum industry, which has struggled with low prices lately due to excess supply, and weak demand.
Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , meanwhile, was the Dow's biggest gainer, rising 0.8%, perhaps in response to the better-than-expected consumer confidence numbers. The world's largest retailer also announced it would provide $50 million in low-interest loans to improve Bangladeshi factories after a building collapse in one of those plants killed over 1,000 workers earlier in the year. Several other companies have offered similar loans, some of which are over $100 million, to shore up the supply chain. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reported that the retailer is set to submit a proposal to operate supermarkets in India, which would expand Wal-Mart's nascent presence in the world's second-most-populous country, an important step for its long-term revenue growth.
Wal-Mart may be the reigning ruler of retail, but one of our analysts sees its demise coming around the bend. To find out more, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform, and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.