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.
2014 hasn't gotten off to the best start for stock market investors, who are still waiting for their first record close for the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) in the New Year. Still, today's gains of almost 106 points made a nice dent in the average's losses so far in 2014, as investors responded favorably to news that falling petroleum imports helped contribute to the nation's lowest trade-deficit figures since late 2009. Health-care stocks UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) helped lead the Dow higher, even as JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and DuPont (NYSE:DD) posted significant declines that limited the Dow's gains.
Among the Dow's health-care stocks, both UnitedHealth and Johnson & Johnson benefited from favorable views from investment analysts. Deutsche Bank gave UnitedHealth an upgrade, while J&J got the nod from RBC Capital Markets. As Fool contributor Dan Carroll noted earlier today, both companies have taken a measured, intelligent approach in addressing changing trends in health care. UnitedHealth, which rose more than 3% today, chose to participate in the Affordable Care Act's new health-insurance exchanges to a more limited extent than some of its peers, testing the waters and leaving itself with wiggle-room if the program doesn't go according to plan. Meanwhile, J&J, which gained 2%, has benefited greatly from its pharmaceutical division, with a big success for partner Valeant Pharmaceuticals today only emphasizing the important of pharma for the health-care conglomerate.
On the downside, though, JPMorgan fell more than 1% after confirming its settlement of allegations linked to the Bernie Madoff scandal. The settlement package will include $1.7 billion in criminal-charge forfeitures, as well as a $350 million civil penalty and $543 million to go toward settling other claims from victims of the Madoff Ponzi scheme. As a result of the settlement, JPMorgan will add about $400 million in pre-tax money toward its litigation reserves, and it expects that the settlement will reduce fourth-quarter income by $850 million. That's another big chunk of money for JPMorgan to swallow, but today's losses still leave the stock up 1% for 2014.
DuPont also dropped 1%. One interesting opportunity for the seed and chemical company could come from Europe, where the European Union is considering whether to approve genetically modified corn designed by it and Dow Chemical for use on the continent. The U.K.'s agricultural minister supports the move, arguing that Europe risks falling behind the rest of the world in agricultural innovation. Even if Europe doesn't act now, though, the tide toward greater use of GMO crops could prove hard to counter in the long run.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger owns warrants on JPMorgan Chase. You can follow him on Twitter: @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Johnson & Johnson and UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson and JPMorgan Chase. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.