The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has dropped 0.7% today, the first day of trading in 2014. Trading can often be erratic around the new year and that looks to be the case here, because economic data released today wasn't nearly so bearish.
The Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index fell slightly to 57% in December, but it's coming off a two-and-a-half-year high. A reading of more than 50% indicates manufacturing expansion so this is still a strong figure heading into 2014.
Initial jobless claims also fell slightly to 339,000 last week. It's the lowest level in a month and continues a strong run by the country's labor market.
Wal-Mart leads the Dow
Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) is the only Dow stock moving higher with just more than 30 minutes left in trading, gaining 0.4% today (the other upwardly mobile stock is Boeing). The only news out today is that the retailer is recalling donkey meat from stores in China after Fox DNA was found in the product.
Wal-Mart's 18.7% total return over the past year lagged the Dow's 28.6% return by a wide margin so it's interesting that the stock is starting off this year so well. Sales from online retailers and weak sales in China have hurt the company's growth in recent years.
Going into 2014, the company is coming off three straight quarters of falling same-store sales and may see overall sales fall as it closes some locations in China. That doesn't point to a strong 2014 operationally, and eventually that's what the market will care about.
Wal-Mart is leading the Dow today, but I'd be more worried about it being a laggard in the long term. The challenges that faced the company in 2013 aren't going away anytime soon, and discount retailers aren't stealing share with the economy on a road to recovery.
The companies killing Wal-Mart
If Wal-Mart is struggling, how should you play retail? To learn about two retailers with especially good prospects, take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report: "The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail." In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.