Today proved to be the calm before the coming storm of second-quarter earnings releases. Although the stock market fell pretty sharply in the morning, it regained a lot of that lost ground in the afternoon, with the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) ending down just 36 points. The Nasdaq Composite and S&P 500 had even milder declines on a percentage basis.

But even though advancers and decliners among the Dow stocks were evenly split, some of the declines were fairly severe. DuPont (NYSE: DD), for instance, fell almost 3% amid some conflicting reports about whether it would try to buy out French chemical maker Arkema. Although strategic opportunities in the chemical industry could help DuPont, it will be crucial for the company not to overpay for a potential acquisition, especially given the economic headwinds facing Europe right now.

Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT) also joined the parade of economically sensitive stocks posting losses, finishing down about 1.75%. Caterpillar's stock has fallen sharply as China's economic prospects have looked increasingly dire, and with European central banks starting to pull out all the stops to goose economic growth in the region, the construction industry is at a crossroads. Caterpillar should see stronger earnings this quarter from a year ago, but if that growth is to continue, it needs the world to have a decent economic recovery.

Finally, ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) fell 1.4% despite a threatened Norwegian strike that sent oil prices higher. The strike could cut 2 million barrels per day of total oil output. Yet the real value in Exxon and fellow Dow energy giant Chevron (NYSE: CVX) comes from their value proposition, as even an economic slowdown isn't likely to keep energy prices low for long. Chevron fell about half a percent today.

Get up off the floor
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter, @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of ExxonMobil. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Chevron. 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 Fool has a disclosure policy.