In recent months, all it took to push the market higher was a prominent company announcing unexpected good news. Considering last night's news from General Electric (NYSE:GE), it would have been reasonable to assume that the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) would head higher today. Yet even with retail sales data showing modest growth, concerns about the political fallout of the State of the Union speech last night have held markets in check. As of 10:50 a.m. EST, the Dow is down 22 points, losing its grip on the 14,000 level. Broader market measures show modest gains.
Pushing GE higher by more than 3% is news that NBC Universal partner Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) will buy out GE's 49% stake in the media venture. With GE collecting a whopping $16.7 billion from the deal, the company said this morning that it would return $18 billion to investors through dividends and stock buybacks. Comcast soared 6% on the deal.
On the downside is McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), which has fallen 1.3%. In his speech last night, President Obama called for hikes to the minimum wage. With fast-food restaurants among the biggest employers of low-wage workers, such a rise would potentially hit McDonald's a lot harder than other major companies whose employees earn higher wages.
Finally, Cliffs Natural Resources (NYSE:CLF) has plunged 19% after announcing massive charges in its earnings report and slashing its dividend. Although the charges had been preannounced, news that Cliffs would cut its annual payout from $2.50 per share to $0.60 per share was definitely a negative surprise. With the stock's former 7% dividend yield having been a major drawing point for the stock, income investors will likely flee the company until it can demonstrate a lasting turnaround in the hard-hit iron-ore and metallurgical-coal markets.