Why UnitedHealth Group and United Technologies Were the Dow's Big Losers Last Week

The Dow had a solid gain for the week, but these two stocks didn't hold up well. Find out why.

May 3, 2014 at 5:05PM

The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) didn't finish the week well, falling back on two straight sessions after setting a new all-time record high on Wednesday. Yet the Dow still managed to finish the week on a positive note, rising almost 1%. Nevertheless, not all of the members of the Dow Jones Industrials participated in the rally, and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) and United Technologies (NYSE:UTX) were left to bring up the rear with modest losses that nevertheless left them the worst performers of the week.

UnitedHealth Group's drop of 0.8% didn't reflect any major news that hurt the health-insurance company, although earnings from one of its primary rivals might have had some impact on UnitedHealth's stock. One insurance company that has made a much more aggressive push into health-insurance exchanges established under the Affordable Care Act reported much better quarterly profits than investors had expected, suggesting that Obamacare won't necessarily be as big of a problem as some had thought. Another rival boosted its earnings guidance for similar reasons. Yet UnitedHealth's more conservative policy of waiting to see how the health-insurance exchanges fared won't lock it out of future forays in the space, especially once rates start to adjust to reflect actual loss experience. Even if it creates a short-term hurdle for UnitedHealth, the insurer has the ability to maintain its leadership role in the industry.

Source: United Technologies.

United Technologies fell even less, losing just 0.6%. A merger and spinoff combination elsewhere in the defense industry raised the question of whether United Technologies would need to look at making strategic acquisitions of its own in order to maintain its competitive position for its defense-contractor business. With signs that defense spending could remain under pressure for the foreseeable future, consolidation in the industry makes a degree of sense, especially to the extent that it can help companies reduce their overhead costs and take advantage of economies of scale. Yet United Technologies has focused much of its attention in recent years on the commercial side of the aerospace industry, with its acquisition of Goodrich putting United Technologies in a much better position to supply the needs of aircraft manufacturers striving to meet soaring demand. Moreover, with signs that commercial construction activity might finally start to pick up, United Technologies' Otis and UTC segments could well have better growth prospects, making the defense business even less of a priority going forward.

Neither of these companies suffered huge losses, and this week's news didn't indicate a big reversal of fortune for either UnitedHealth or United Technologies. If anything, investors should be pleased that the shares got a little cheaper so that those who like their prospects can consider adding to positions more cheaply.

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Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't 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.

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