After reeling in gains throughout the morning, the market has taken a downturn in the afternoon, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) falling near the breakeven point as of 2:30 p.m. EDT. Nearly half of the Dow's stocks have managed to stay in the green, with Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and General Electric (NYSE: GE ) among risers from a strong day out of the industrial sector. An improved economic report from America's factories hasn't let industrial investors down. Let's catch up on what you need to know.
Industrials leaders jump on Commerce Department data
The Commerce Department kicked things with a report showing that factory orders increased by 1.6% last month in the U.S. It was a much better performance than January's result, when a revised reading showed factory orders declining by 1%, and a turnaround from two straight months of decline. Transportation industries showed some of the biggest gains in today's announcement, with cars and auto parts orders jumping 3% while commercial aircraft demand spiked by more than 13%. With the aerospace market facing plenty of opportunity, particularly out of developing nations, don't expect that latter number to hit a snag anytime soon.
However, today's result wasn't all optimistic. Core capital goods demand fell by 1.4%, while machinery orders fell by 1.2% for the month. That hit particularly hard in the mining and construction industries, which saw further order declines for the month, which won't help rising industrial stock Caterpillar. The heavy-equipment maker's stock has jumped by more than 11% this year, and is up big today with a 2% gain, but the company needs to ignite sales to get its long-term picture looking good again.
While the industrial segment is largely tied to the economy -- a good thing for Caterpillar and its investors if U.S. GDP can continue its march higher in coming quarters -- Caterpillar's revenue has taken a beating around the globe. Asia-Pacific sales and revenue from the company's Europe, Middle East, and Africa region declined by 27% and 14%, respectively, last year, so it'll take more than just a lift in the U.S. to buoy Caterpillar's fortunes.
General Electric is up just 0.4% on the news, but the spike in aviation demand has been a big winner with the company's investors. GE's aviation systems division has emerged as its business portfolio's leader heading forward, and the future looks bright for the conglomerate's largest segment. The company is focusing on its core business now after divesting part of its consumer finance business, but it may not stop there. GE is considering selling its GE Money Bank division, which has a significant presence in the Scandinavia. Analysts estimate that such a sale could reap $2.75 billion for the company, and with many companies looking to unlock shareholder value through honing in on core businesses, it looks like a smart move for investors.
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