More than halfway through the trading day, investors have been taken for a ride. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) started in the red, convalesced in the green for about an hour before lunch, and has since oscillated between positive and negative territory throughout the afternoon. As I write, it's down by a nominal three points.
The obvious lack of direction is well-founded as traders struggle to make sense of both positive and negative economic developments.
Today's "good" news
On the positive side, as my colleague Justin Loiseau reported earlier today, a report released by the National Association of Home Builders suggests that confidence among homebuilders is at its highest point since June of 2006.
According to the association's press release: "Builders across the country are expressing a more positive outlook on current sales conditions, future sales prospects and the amount of consumer traffic they are seeing through model homes than they have in more than five years."
Before you get too excited, however, its chief economist, David Crowe, went on to note: "Against the improving demand for new homes, concerns are now rising about the lack of building lots in certain markets and the rising cost of building materials. Given the fragile nature of the housing and economic recovery, these are significant red flags."
With respect to the latter, more tempered perspective, it's worth nothing that the survey, while at a five-year high, still indicates that confidence is waning. Namely, while the survey's present reading is 40, it takes a score of 50 to suggest that more builders view sales conditions as good than as bad.
Today's bad news
On a more downbeat note, the biggest news rocking today's market was the announcement that Fedex (NYSE:FDX), operator of the world's largest cargo airline, cut its annual profit outlook on the back of weakening global demand for shipping. The transportation giant and economic bellwether now expects to make between $6.20 and $6.60 a share for the full year, compared with the company's previously estimated range of $6.90 to $7.40.
According to CEO Fred Smith, "Fundamentally what's happening is that exports around the world have contracted and the policy choices in Europe, the U.S., and China are having an effect on global trade."
Notably, Fedex's announcement comes on the heels of a slew of discouraging economic news. Yesterday, for example, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released it Empire State Index, which indicated that manufacturing in the eponymous region is contracting.
Today's winners and losers
Leading the way up today is Kraft Foods (NASDAQ:KRFT), the proprietor of brands such as Oreo and Kraft macaroni and cheese. The performance is likely related to repositioning by traders in anticipation of the stock's delisting from the Dow. At the beginning of next month, the company will split into two businesses -- one for its North American grocery operations and the other for its international snack division. However, neither will be big enough to justify continued participation in the Dow.
Leading the way down, alternatively, is aluminum giant Alcoa (NYSE:AA), which has seen its shares fall by 1.25% in midday trading. As was the case yesterday, traders seem dismayed at the aforementioned manufacturing reports. In addition, as my colleague Matt Thalman noted, it was announced this morning that Jefferies downgraded Alcoa's stock.
At the end of the day
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Fool contributor John Maxfield does not have a financial stake in any of the companies mentioned above. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of FedEx. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.