The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) on Wednesday set a new record for the first time in 2014, poking into all-time high territory by the slightest of margins. Thursday morning, though, the Dow struggled to follow through on those gains, falling seven points as of 11 a.m. EDT. Declines in the Dow's energy stocks following a major earnings announcement kept the blue-chip index down, but gains from Visa (NYSE:V) and 3M (NYSE:MMM) helped prevent a deeper fall and raised hopes that the average would recover to higher levels by the end of the day.


Visa jumped almost 2% after main rival MasterCard (NYSE:MA) reported first-quarter earnings that showed the high-growth potential still available in the card-network space. Both profit and revenue jumped about 14%, with a larger number of transactions and a consequent increase in purchase volumes leading the way in producing growth. Visa investors concluded that the favorable conditions that boosted its rival's prospects during the quarter should hold true for Visa as well. Given that Visa has fallen substantially from its recent highs on exactly those growth worries, the news from elsewhere in the industry reassured investors that the company could see stronger growth on the horizon.

3M, which rose 1.1% in early trading, got good news that validated its efforts to jump-start innovation through increased spending and acquisitions based on boosting research and development. The conglomerate announced that it received two Edison Awards last night for products in completely different segments of its business. A 3M product designed to detect salmonella bacteria in food samples won a silver award, with food-processing companies around the world using the system to reduce costs and detect potentially disastrous outbreaks before food is shipped to users, avoiding the need for costly recalls. Meanwhile, 3M's Novec fluid for cooling data centers to improve performance and reduce energy consumption won a bronze award, with 3M partnering with major semiconductor manufacturers to incorporate the fluid into supercomputer equipment. The awards are only one sign of 3M's R&D efforts, and the company hopes that it can accelerate its growth as a result of this strategic vision of innovation.

As the Dow fights for new highs, it'll be interesting to see if 3M and Visa can extend their gains. The Dow will need leaders to carry it higher in order for investors' wishes for further record gains to come true.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends 3M, MasterCard, and Visa. The Motley Fool owns shares of MasterCard and Visa. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.