The stock market lost ground on Thursday morning, failing to take any reassurance from the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting Wednesday afternoon. Negative reports from some key companies showed that trade relations between the U.S. and China have caused problems, and the lack of a quick resolution could create more pain for companies with global operations. As of shortly before 11:30 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was down 95 points to 25,860. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) gave up 10 points to fall to 2,775, while the Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) dropped 33 points to 7,456.
One risk that often goes unnoticed for consumer goods companies is product liability. If something goes wrong with a popular product, then customers won't just stop buying it -- they'll also look to the producer to fix the problem and pay for any resulting damages. News on the product front helped send shares of Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ) lower today, and it could be years before the issues come to a final resolution.
Nike deals with Duke fallout
Nike shares fell 1.5% after a rising star in college basketball had what some could call a major wardrobe malfunction. Zion Williamson, who plays for the Duke Blue Devils, had his shoe split open during a game, and following the incident, Williamson left the game with a knee sprain.
Nike prides itself on getting star players and teams to wear its products, but this was a situation in which the success of that strategy backfired on the athletic shoe and apparel giant. The injury happened in a rivalry game between Duke and the North Carolina Tar Heels. Duke was ranked No. 1 going into the game, and the team ended up losing the game following Williamson's departure. Moreover, there were notable people in attendance at the game, including former President Barack Obama and prominent filmmaker Spike Lee.
Now, broader concerns about product quality could plague Nike for months or even years to come. For a stock that's mounted an impressive recovery in the past couple of years following a big rise in competition, Nike could now have to prove to investors all over again that it has what it takes to remain the leader of the athletic apparel industry.
J&J's talc problems go a step further
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson saw its stock drop more than 1%. The healthcare giant disclosed in its 10-K annual report filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that a U.S. Senate committee had subpoenaed J&J to produce documents in connection with product liability suits. In addition, the SEC and the Department of Justice were also seeking information about the incidents.
A news report in December raised new issues in long-standing concerns about Johnson & Johnson's baby powder and other talc-containing products. J&J had already faced paying substantial damages in connection with the talc products, with a jury last July awarding a nearly $4.7 billion verdict to a group of almost two dozen plaintiffs alleging that the products caused cancer. But the report suggested that the risk of asbestos contamination was one that Johnson & Johnson might have known about for decades.
Johnson & Johnson says that it is cooperating with the SEC, DOJ, and Senate inquiries and will produce documents to respond to the subpoena requests. Where things go from there remains to be seen, but the possibility that J&J might have known about problems and failed to take adequate action to resolve them could open a new chapter in the healthcare giant's litigation history.