The Secret to Dow Gains in 2014: Growth Stocks

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.

The bull market in stocks reasserted itself this morning, as the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) climbed sharply from the open. By 11 a.m. EST, the Dow was up 149 points, and other major-market benchmarks also rose about 1%. Yet even though today's move will only make a small dent in the losses the average has seen so far this year, it's becoming increasingly clear that Dow investors want to see stocks that have real growth prospects in order to protect them from market downturns. That's a big part of why consumer giants Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) and Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) , along with chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) and heavy-equipment specialist Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) , are gaining more ground today than most of their peers.

The obvious catalyst for Disney's 5.3% jump was its quarterly earnings report last night, in which the company posted an impressive 34% rise in earnings per share on a 9% jump in revenue. The best gains came from Disney's studio entertainment and interactive divisions, but impressive operating income gains in the key media networks and parks and resorts segments paved the way for the overall bottom-line strength. Disney has demonstrated its growth potential repeatedly in recent years, and the earnings report only highlights the opportunities that the entertainment giant has to deliver long-term gains to shareholders.

Caterpillar, on the other hand, has managed to gain attention from investors not because of its current strength but because of its future prospects. Caterpillar is a cyclical stock, and shareholders have endured the downward part of the cycle for a long time as fears of a worldwide economic slowdown keep weighing on the company's long-range expectations. Yet today's gain of almost 2% reflects continued optimism that a turnaround will eventually come, and when it does, investors want to anticipate the gains that they'll enjoy as a result.

Patience is a key attribute for investors focusing on growth. Nike and Intel haven't performed as well as Disney and Caterpillar so far in 2014, even though they're both up 2% today. The companies face different challenges in their efforts to maintain and build on leadership roles in their respective industries. Yet shareholders know Intel has plenty of capacity to make a big impression in the mobile device market in the years to come. Nike faces competition from up-and-coming athletic gear rivals, but it retains a first-mover status that gives it more flexibility to establish new trends and to follow the most promising ones going forward.

As a group, growth stocks aren't always your best bet, especially when market conditions call for caution. But the right growth stocks can survive even substantial market corrections, so seeking them out is well worth the effort.

But how do you find those growth stocks?
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