So far in 2014, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) haven't been able to improve on the closing record high delivered on the last day of 2013, even as the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) has already set several new records and stood at an all-time high as of yesterday. But Thursday morning, the Dow kept flirting with its past high-water mark, as Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) helped send the blue-chip index to intraday records even as Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) weighed down the average. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow was down 11 points, having pulled back from a 30-point gain earlier in the session. Economic reports of a bigger jump in jobless claims and a wider trade deficit figure also likely played a role in moderating the average.
Intel jumped about 1.5% after the semiconductor giant got a positive upgrade from an analyst at Piper Jaffray, who expects the stock to rise another 15% or so from current levels. Intel's valuations have been relatively low compared to the rest of the market, stemming largely from the fact that the company has been slow in ramping up its presence in the mobile-chip market. With Intel starting to find entry points into that space, however, investors have become more enthusiastic about the chipmaker's prospects. Moreover, as interest rates remain low, Intel's status as one of the highest-yielding stocks in the Dow Jones Industrials makes it an attractive choice for those who believe the company can overcome its growth woes.
But Goldman Sachs dropped 1.2%, and its much higher share price had a more negative impact on the Dow than Intel's push higher. Some are pointing to yesterday's news of about $50 million in fines from European Union regulators over an alleged subsea cable cartel that ran for nearly a decade starting in 1999 as suggesting that Goldman Sachs still has potential legal liability that could hurt its business. Others are weighing the impact of a reported sale of its market-making division. But of even greater importance to Goldman Sachs is the coming earnings season that begins next week, as banks will be among the first to report their results for the first quarter. Goldman Sachs earnings are seen falling about 17% from the year-ago quarter's figures, and much of its future depends on being able to restore past growth levels.
Finally, Microsoft gave back almost 1%. The company Windows 8.1 operating system is getting a new update, and investors are nervous about how many of the tech giant's users will actually take advantage of the new version of the OS. Responding to user complaints about the changed interface, Microsoft is giving users the ability to make the operating system look more like past versions of Windows. The hope is that by doing so, more users of older Windows operating systems will finally upgrade to Windows 8.1. But after big share-price gains recently, investors aren't taking the chance of a poor rollout next week.
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