Why the Dow Didn't Do Anything Today

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.

Stocks moved essentially nowhere today as investors nervously awaited the outcome of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee meeting. The results of the two-day meeting are due out tomorrow at 2 p.m. and could include a taper of the central bank's $85 billion monthly bond-buying program. Most market watchers aren't expecting a taper to come until March, though investors looked foolish back in September when everyone expected a taper, but it didn't come. With two straight months of 200,000-plus job growth and the unemployment now at 7% and falling fast, it certainly wouldn't be shocking to see the Fed decide to kick off the cutbacks tomorrow. With Bernanke's announcement hanging in the balance, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) fell nine points, or 0.06%, while the S&P 500 declined 0.3%.

IRobot (NASDAQ: IRBT  ) shares were destroying the market today, climbing 17% after getting an upgrade to strong buy from Raymond James. The research firm was bullish on the robot maker, and said among other things that prospects for the new Roomba 800 were strong. Raymond James also had high hopes for the tech company's Swiffer competitor Braava, a hardwood-cleaning robot. iRobot likely also benefited from Google's acquisition yesterday of Boston Dynamics, a small robotics maker, which could create buzz for further deals in the industry.

Meanwhile, 3M (NYSE: MMM  ) was leading the Dow, jumping 2.9% after announcing an increase in its dividend payout and share buyback program. The conglomerate that makes everything from Scotch tape to medical devices said it would up its quarterly cash distributions by 35% to $0.85 a share, giving the stock a 2.6% yield. Management also promised to spend between $17 billion and $22 billion on stock repurchases from 2013 to 2017, an increase from a previous authorization of $7.5-$15 billion. While 3M is never going to provide the market-crushing returns that riskier growth stocks might, today's news reminds us that blue chips tend to pay off incrementally through increased capital returns to shareholders and a steady appreciation in share price.

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