After solid gains yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) retreated 23 points as of 11 a.m. EDT Thursday. A slate of economic data releases earlier this morning left investors somewhat uncertain, with slightly weaker results than expected on leading economic indicators and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank report offsetting news of a small drop in initial claims for unemployment benefits last week. Yet with the Federal Reserve's vote of confidence in its decision yesterday on the course of monetary policy, investors appear to believe that the breadth of the economic recovery is getting larger, and consumer strength is spurring market interest in Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) today.
Wal-Mart gained 0.8% in early trading as the retail giant attempts to move forward with its e-commerce strategy. The company said it would open a new distribution center in Indiana near the primary airport for Indianapolis, with the intent of filling orders from online customers. Wal-Mart hopes the facility will open early next year, which won't be soon enough to meet demand for the 2014 holiday season but will nevertheless put the Dow component in a better position to compete going forward. Despite its huge brick-and-mortar footprint, Wal-Mart has had to ramp up its website in order to maintain market share against the tide of rising interest in online purchases. Moreover, with foot traffic to its supercenters seeing signs of weakness, Wal-Mart has explored other store formats with the hope of catering to the different needs of its customers. The retail giant has traditionally relied on low- and middle-income shoppers for the bulk of its business, and any signs that the economic recovery is finally being felt in lower income brackets are good news for Wal-Mart.
Procter & Gamble rose nearly two-thirds of a percent Thursday morning, responding to the general uptick in consumer sentiment. The Dow consumer-goods company has seen its growth slow substantially since the mid-2000s, with weakness among rank-and-file consumers during the recession of 2008 only partially explaining the pullback. In particular, as once-soaring emerging markets finally hit their first growth roadblocks, Procter & Gamble had to adapt and start emphasizing its talent for innovation once again. Healthier consumers can afford to pay up for P&G's premium products over store brands and other cheaper alternatives; in light of the Fed's optimism, investors hope the company will provide the growth they want.
As the Dow Jones Industrials soar, the performance of defensive names like Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart will be important. With some nervous investors looking to those two blue-chip stocks to provide protection against future downturns, Wal-Mart and P&G could be winners even if the overall Dow drops.
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