The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) has vaulted to a new intraday high today, up 102 points to 16,840 as of 2:30 p.m. EDT, buoyed by promising and much-anticipated news out of Europe that offers up new hope for the eurozone's beleaguered economic recovery. All but a handful of the index's blue-chip member stocks are in the green so far. However, UnitedHealth Group's (NYSE: UNH ) stock has fallen 0.7% to the bottom of the Dow. Let's catch up on what you need to know.
Big changes hit Europe
No story's dominated the market moves today like the European Central Bank's actions this morning. The ECB slashed its benchmark rate down to 0.15% and went further by launching a negative deposit rate of -0.1%, down from 0%, a move designed to push banks to lend money. The ECB also took up other measures but remained short of a full-on asset purchasing push. The decisions were enough to kick European stocks higher, with Germany's DAX (DAXINDICES: ^DAX ) advancing 0.2% today. In addition, ECB President Mario Draghi's latest actions don't preclude more aggressive moves, such as stimulus, if Europe can't emerge from the economic doldrums quickly enough.
At the core of the push is Europe's ongoing inflation problem. Overall eurozone inflation in May fell to 0.5%, and hard-hit nations such as Italy and Spain have seen inflation fall below that. The ECB's negative interest rate should give added motivation to banks to avoid sitting on piles of cash, as banks effectively will now have to pay to keep that money lying around. But there's more than just stagnant prices at risk in Europe: The continent has suffered through declining wage growth, threatening to stifle consumption around the eurozone and jeopardizing Europe's fragile recovery. If Draghi's moves today can't get Europe going soon, it wouldn't be surprising to see the ECB institute quantitative easing in a more aggressive move to stimulate the economic comeback.
Meanwhile, UnitedHealth's fall comes even after America's largest publicly traded health insurer today boosted its dividend by 34%. UnitedHealth also approved a 100-million share buyback program, but that hasn't inspired investors so far. The company is locked into a wide-scale overhaul in the insurance industry as top companies get used to the new landscape under the Affordable Care Act. Changes from the ACA, most notably cuts to Medicare Advantage payouts, hurt UnitedHealth's earnings in the first quarter, but there still are reasons to believe in this insurer's long-term approach.
UnitedHealth's dividend remains one of the top yields in the insurance industry, and this company's size and cautious approach to Obamacare's rollout will insulate investors from much of the turbulence as the new law's first year continues. Once early changes to Obamacare level out, expect UnitedHealth to make the most of the new law -- particularly in Medicaid, where the company has already grown subscriptions. The stock has gained nearly 8% this year; while UnitedHealth may not be able to sustain that success through the rest of the year, this stock should prosper over the long run.
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