The Dow Starts 2014 With a Whimper Behind DuPont's Drop

Caterpillar dips, while PMI growth slows in both the U.S. and China on a downer opening to the market year

Jan 2, 2014 at 2:34PM

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.

After 2013's record-shattering year, investors are experiencing a much more ominous opening to 2014. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) has dropped sharply into the red since the first opening bell of the new year, crashing down more than 140 points as of 2:30 p.m. EST. All but a few blue-chip stocks are in the red today, with chemical giant DuPont (NYSE:DD) headlining the loser list by falling around 1.9%. Let's catch up on what you need to know as the Dow Jones kicks off 2014.

Manufacturing growth churns higher, but will it last?
There's little news out across the markets today, but investors are feeling jittery nonetheless. There was manufacturing news, as the Institute for Supply Management released its monthly purchasing managers' index for December. The PMI decreased slightly by 0.3 percentage points, down to a reading of 57 from November's year-high 57.3 mark. Still, that's far above the neutral 50 reading that marks neither contraction nor expansion and shows that American manufacturing's comeback through last year continued strongly in its final month.

Despite manufacturing prices, employment, and new orders picking up at a faster rate across the industry in November, big manufacturing stocks are down. Dow member Caterpillar's (NYSE:CAT) no exception. The heavy-equipment maker's stock shed about 0.9% today, continuing the sluggish ride seen in 2013, when it ranked as one of the five worst Dow stocks by showing low single-digit percentage growth.

Can Caterpillar turn it around? That'll depend heavily on both the U.S. economic recovery churning on and overseas growth, which didn't encourage investors today. China's own purchasing managers' index fell from 51.4 in November to 51 in December. The world's No. 2 economy will need to maintain its sustainable growth targets for top manufacturers to benefit. Caterpillar's Asia-Pacific sales took a big blow in the company's most recent quarter, with its power systems branch in particular seeing sales in the up-and-coming region fall by a painful 63% -- far more drastic a hit than the 28% drop seen in the unit's sales in North America, its top market.

DuPont's down today on a similar lack of company-specific news; unlike Caterpillar, this stock surged to a great 2013. The stock ranked as one of the Dow's top 10 performers over the past year with roughly 50% growth, and the company's agricultural unit looks to power DuPont to big gains again in the new year. With seed sales up 11% during the first nine months of 2013 and total agricultural sales up 9% year-over-year during that time, DuPont investors need to hope for another good season from this top unit.

The best pick for your money in 2014
Stocks aren't having the best day today, but the market stormed out to huge gains across 2013, leaving investors on the sidelines burned. However, opportunistic investors can still find huge winners. The Motley Fool's chief investment officer has just hand-picked one such opportunity in our new report: "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2014." To find out which stock it is and read our in-depth report, simply click here. It's free!

Fool contributor Dan Carroll has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. 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.

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