Dow Struggles as Rumors of Taper Speed-Up Spread

Economic news is pretty much nonexistent today, but the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down by more than 0.7% despite some decent earnings reports from Verizon, Johnson & Johnson, and Travelers (NYSE: TRV  ) .

Possibly causing a depressed mood on the index is a Wall Street Journal report that the Federal Reserve could increase the rate at which it is tapering off its bond-buying program by an additional $10 billion per month. According to an abbreviated version of the article on MarketWatch, the Fed could announce the further decrease in bond purchases at the close of its Jan. 28-29 meeting. This would bring bond purchases to $65 billion monthly, probably starting in February – compared to $85 billion per month as recently as December.

Travelers down despite good earnings report
Property and casualty insurer Travelers turned in a sweet fourth-quarter earnings report this morning, noting an increase in profit year over year to $988 million from $304 million. Full-year profits soared to $3.67 billion in 2013 from $2.47 billion for  2012, and share repurchases returned more than $3 billion in capital to shareholders last year.

At the heart of Travelers' impressive year was a relatively calm hurricane season, in addition to aggressive price increases. The stellar report hasn't helped the insurer's stock, which has lost 2.6% so far today.

In another corner of the insurance sector, UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH  ) is holding its own amid the general bleakness, up 0.37% at noon EST. The giant health insurer was the subject of a couple of mixed analyst reports today.

The Street reiterated its buy rating on the stock this morning, noting the company's strong revenue growth, moderate debt levels, and strong earnings. The report also mentions the uptick in stock value, which has increased over the past year by nearly 34%. Monness Crespi Hardt apparently disagrees, giving UnitedHealth a sell rating earlier today. The report put a price target of $59 on the stock, which is trading at more than $72 per share. In any event, the positive report seems to be the more heavily weighted of the two, and the stock continues to climb.

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