Tomorrow's election and the state of the economy are foremost in investors' minds today, and neither issue is giving anyone much clarity. Polls have Barack Obama and Mitt Romney deadlocked, and a report from the Institute for Supply Management saying that the U.S. services sector fell short of economists' estimates has many wondering whether the economy can keep moving forward, especially with the impact of Hurricane Sandy remaining unclear. All that uncertainty translated into modest losses for stocks, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 0.51%) falling 21 points as of 10:45 a.m. EDT.
Among Dow components, financial stocks generally did poorly, with Bank of America (BAC -0.68%) falling almost 1.5%, while American Express (AXP -0.17%) fell 1%. Many people are looking critically at financial institutions to see how they respond to the problems created by Sandy. AmEx said it would waive its merchant fees for charitable contributions through the end of the year to a list of 10 charities, including the American Red Cross. Yet even as B of A tries to rebuild its reputation, many investors are more concerned with when the bank will finally raise its dividend.
UnitedHealth Group (UNH 1.88%) also lost ground, dropping about 1.3%. Few people expect the Affordable Care Act to be repealed even if Republicans win the White House, and so UnitedHealth should likely plan for the combination of a larger customer base and weaker profit margins for the foreseeable future. With its planned buyout of Brazil's Amil, though, UnitedHealth is sowing the seeds for global growth regardless of what happens domestically.
Finally, Microsoft (MSFT 0.60%) was largely unchanged despite successfully issuing debt at a record-low yield. Its five-year bond sale of $600 million was the first corporate issue ever to break below the 1% mark, while 10-year and 30-year bond sales also went well. Given how important cheap money has been to the stock market, deals like Microsoft's show how companies are taking advantage of low rates to lever their balance sheets and reap better returns on equity.