Why China Sent the Dow Higher but Left Caterpillar and General Electric Out

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) has regained some of the ground it lost yesterday, rising 57 points as of 10:50 a.m. EDT. Yet even though many analysts pointed to encouraging news about the Chinese economy as driving the Dow higher, two of the stocks you'd expect to see gain the most from China's recovery, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) and General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) , didn't post significant gains compared to the Dow.

The optimism over China came from HSBC's flash Purchasing Managers' Index, which rose to 50.9 from 50.2 last month and continued to signal expansion in the manufacturing sector. New orders drove growth in the overall index, reaching their highest level since early this year.

But Caterpillar stock has stalled this morning as the heavy-equipment manufacturer continues to consolidate after yesterday's disappointing earnings report. In particular, the timing of its acquisition of mining-equipment maker Bucyrus three years ago has turned out to be horrible in hindsight, as falling commodities prices have hit the mining industry and forced miners to delay capital-equipment purchases. A pick-up in general manufacturing activity might help lift prices of certain commodities higher, but it won't necessarily translate to greater activity in construction and infrastructure work. Those are the areas that Caterpillar most needs to see do well in order to get earnings moving in the right direction again, and until that part of the Chinese economy recovers, Caterpillar will have a hard time bouncing back.

General Electric, meanwhile, is also flatlining this morning. GE's more wide-ranging conglomerate business covers a far greater swath of industries than Caterpillar, although General Electric has identified the mining-equipment market as a potential driver of future growth. Unlike Caterpillar's, GE's stock has performed quite well recently, as its energy and aviation businesses have pulled a lot of the conglomerate's weight over the past year. A Chinese recovery would be one mark of success for General Electric, but GE also needs to see that strength translate to a broader global recovery that lifts key areas like Europe and the U.S. as well.

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