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.
For those hoping that the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) would start off 2014 with another record high, today's 135-point loss for the average was a big disappointment. Of course, after gains of more than 26% in 2013, falling less than 1% on the day doesn't even approach correction status. Yet it's still interesting that among the biggest decliners in the average today, you'll find three old-style traditional industrial stocks, including DuPont (NYSE:DD), General Electric (NYSE:GE), and 3M (NYSE:MMM). Despite a minor pullback in purchasing-managers indexes in the U.S. and China during December, the about-face in these stocks seems out of tune with the generally strong mood among investors just earlier this week.
For DuPont, which fell almost 2%, much of the coming year's progress might well hinge on its success in spinning off its performance chemicals business into a separately traded unit. Diversified chemicals companies have underperformed those that have specialized in certain high-growth areas, especially agricultural chemicals and related products, and DuPont has committed itself toward boosting its exposure to the ag industry, even as it tries to find strategic options to rid itself of slower-growth segments. With gains in 2013 already taking these moves for granted, DuPont has to follow through if it wants to avoid disappointing shareholders.
General Electric also dropped nearly 2%. A report from Bloomberg highlighted the industrial conglomerate's big debt load, with more than $425 billion in debt maturing during 2014. As interest rates start to rise, companies like GE that haven't locked in long-term financing could well start to see their overall financing costs jump. With falling interest expense having played a key role in boosting corporate earnings across the economy, even just the disappearance of those tailwinds could put pressure on General Electric and its peers to find earnings growth from other sources. If GE continues its plans to deemphasize its finance unit, then its interest problems could largely disappear in the long run.
3M declined about 1.5%. After posting gains of more than 50% in 2013, the company best known for its Post-It Notes can likely chalk up today's relatively small losses by comparison to investors locking in gains, and looking for better growth prospects elsewhere. Some investors have been critical of 3M for not producing the same level of innovation that it has historically, raising concerns about its future growth trajectory. With shares fetching more than 21 times trailing earnings, 3M might need to take a breather until the company's next big growth prospects make themselves more obvious to shareholders.
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends 3M. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.