Yesterday the markets were hit with their first real dose of uncertainty since the turn of the year and the political jockeying over the fiscal cliff. Now they again have to worry about how the decisions of a few will affect the many. The Federal Open Market Committee's minutes were released yesterday, and it's clear that the members of the central bank do not all agree with the current quantitative-easing program. As a result, investors are again unsure whether interest rates could rise and make cheap money a thing of the past. That caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) to drop 108 points yesterday, and as of 12:55 p.m. EST today the index has lost another 72 points. The Dow now sits at 13,856 and only six of its 30 components are in the green.
So who's down and why?
Home Depot (NYSE:HD) is down 2.4% today after it was downgraded from "buy" to "hold" by an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, who cited increasing evidence that a housing rebound is stalling. Shares of Home Depot were flying high in 2012 and are already up 4.9% year to date. The company is closely tied to the housing market, and if its rebound hits any major snags, the share price will quickly plummet.
Following yesterday's disappointing announcement that sales were down 4% over the three-month period ending in January, Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) has lost another 2.6% so far today. The previous three months ending in December experienced a much milder decline, with sales only falling by 1%. The North America and Asia-Pacific regions saw sales decline by 11% and 12%, respectively, while Latin American sales rose by 3% and the Europe, Africa, and Middle East markets experienced an increase of 1%. Caterpillar shareholders should continue to follow the sales numbers, because while this may be a one-time dip, it could also be the beginning of a long downturn.
Shares of Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) are down 2.4%. There's little news pertaining to the company at this time, but volumes are higher than normal. With about half the trading day to go, 33.3 million shares -- 71% of the average daily total -- have already changed hands. Nearly all the Dow's technology stocks are trading lower today: Microsoft is down 1.3%, Cisco has lost 1.3% as well, and IBM is down 0.2%. Intel's move lower today likely owes to the broader market decline, rather than anything company-specific.