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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.
Eight times a year, the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee meets to discuss the future of monetary policy. Those meetings almost always get a great deal of market attention, but the meeting going on today and tomorrow has the entire investing community watching to see whether the Fed will start to pull back on its trillion-dollar annual pace of bond purchases. Many analysts expect a trimming of quantitative easing, but with interest rates already having moved sharply higher, it's unclear whether a QE cut would cause any further rate hikes. Still, at least going into the meeting, investors don't seem particularly worried, as the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) picked up another 35 points.
What's more surprising than the Dow's rise is which stocks in the Dow rose the most. The biggest winner of the day was Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) , which climbed almost 2% despite its counting down the days until it leaves the Dow's ranks. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed how the company has dramatically reduced aluminum production in the U.S. in light of weak pricing in the industry, yet, at least for now, the cuts in production capacity have had little impact in boosting market prices for the metal. Even if aluminum prices do bounce back, it's unclear whether Alcoa will ever boost its domestic manufacturing capacity again.
American Express (NYSE: AXP ) was also a big winner, rising 1.75%. With uncertainty about the future course of interest rates, you'd expect a financial company like AmEx to show only muted moves in advance of a big Fed meeting. But AmEx's interesting hybrid business model as both a card network and a credit-extending financial institution gives it the best of both worlds in some respects, and AmEx's efforts to use its brand to bolster its position in the prepaid debit-card arena could well start producing bigger dividends in the near future.
Finally, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) climbed 1.5% on a good day for the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX: ^IXIC ) , which gained 0.75%, and outperformed the broader market. Intel's apparent strategy is to cover every niche of the semiconductor market, as it hopes to provide chips for the tiniest mobile devices as well as the largest and most powerful computing machines. That's an ambitious strategy, but it has the virtue of allowing it to keep reaping the benefits of its dominant PC position while also branching out to other markets. If successful, Intel could transition its way to years of further profit gains.
Don't let rising rates surprise you
The Fed's decision tomorrow could have a huge impact on the fate of the federal debt, which has grown sharply in the aftermath of the financial crisis. In The Motley Fool's new free report, "Everything You Need to Know About the National Debt," we walk you through with step-by-step explanations about how the government spends your money, where it gets tax revenue from, the future of spending, and what a $16 trillion debt means for our future. Click here to read the full report!