The Dow Jones Industrials (^DJI 0.23%) went through a lot of turbulence during the first quarter. In the end, the average lost just over 600 points, or about 2.5%, and broke a streak of winning quarters dating back to 2015.
Yet the news wasn't entirely bad for investors. Even though the overall index was down, there were still three stocks that managed to post double-digit percentage gains during the period. One of those stocks was one of the leaders that has helped push the Dow ever higher for years, but the other two were stocks that had been hit hard in the past and were able to mount an impressive recovery.
The Dow's big winners in the first quarter of 2018
Intel (INTC 1.79%)
Cisco Systems (CSCO 0.06%)
Boeing (BA -1.83%)
How big tech bounced back
Technology stocks have done well throughout the bull market, but not all tech players have done equally well. Even as companies that have strong exposure to hot areas like cloud computing, data analytics, and social media have seen impressive gains, the shifts in the technology arena have threatened to leave some of its largest players behind.
In particular, both Intel and Cisco have faced challenges as they transition away from their legacy business focuses to keep up with the rapid pace of innovation. For Intel, decades of PC processor dominance might have been the key factor in creating a culture of complacence that left the chip giant ill-prepared for the dramatic shift toward mobile devices. Meanwhile, there have been a number of new trends in the networking business that have allowed smaller rivals to build competitive advantages over Cisco. The network behemoth has had to work hard to figure out an appropriate response to defend its turf and find new avenues for growth.
Intel's rebound has stemmed from its realization that it can compete with its tech-titan peers in a wide variety of areas. Moving into data centers was a natural fit for Intel, because it allowed the company to use its existing expertise and apply it in a new direction that matches up well with enterprise customer demand in the current environment. Exploratory pushes into areas like artificial intelligence, drones, and the Internet of Things have contributed to new excitement about Intel, and efforts to develop and improve memory chips that can retain data without continuous power are also going well. At the same time, Intel has recognized the need to cut back on unnecessary costs, and that has boosted margin performance to maximize profits.
For Cisco, the first quarter brought a long-awaited return to revenue growth. After more than two years of year-over-year sales declines, the networking giant was able to produce impressive results that included gains in applications, infrastructure platforms, and security-based products. Recurring revenue continued to grow as a percentage of Cisco's overall business, reflecting a gradual transition toward the prevailing business model in technology right now. With tax reform creating a flood of cash for the company, Cisco boosted its dividend by a double-digit percentage and announced a $25 billion buyback, which should improve per-share performance in the quarters ahead.
Boeing keeps flying
Boeing's first quarter was more turbulent than Intel's or Cisco's, largely because it found itself at the center of controversies on the trade front. The aerospace giant relies substantially on exports of aircraft to fulfill orders from foreign airlines and other buyers, and the recent escalation in tariff impositions between the U.S. and China could affect the aerospace giant directly. China's newly announced tariffs on planes with empty weights between 15,000 and 45,000 kilograms would include some older-model 737 aircraft, but many believe that the newer 737 MAX line of jetliners are large enough that they'll be outside the weight range for tariffs.
Even so, Boeing has continued to perform well fundamentally. In general, order activity has remained strong, prospects for airlines remain good, and investors have therefore concluded that the good times for Boeing can last well into the future.
Will the Dow bounce back?
The Dow continues to face volatility as the second quarter opens, with new fears over trade tension producing big jumps and plunges. For the Dow to bounce back after the first quarter's declines, it will need further strength from stocks like Boeing, Cisco, and Intel to help lead the way higher.