On Day 1 of the sequester, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) scored its highest finish of the year, closing at 14,089 after a slow start. For the day, the blue chips gained 35, or 0.25%.
President Obama continued to bemoan the budget crisis, saying, "None of this is necessary," but neither party appeared to take any meaningful steps toward compromise as the budget slashing began to go into action.
Among the more notable bulls on the country's future is Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE:BRK-B) CEO Warren Buffett, who directed a quip toward fellow CEOs who complain about uncertainty in his annual letter to shareholders: "Of course the immediate future is uncertain; America has faced the uncertain since 1776... American business will do fine over time. And stocks will do well just as certainly, since their fate is tied to business performance... If you're a CEO who has some large, profitable project you are shelving because of short-term worries, call Berkshire. Let us unburden you."
Reporting earnings today, profits at Berkshire jumped 45%, though much of the gains were only on paper, but Buffett said he was disappointed in the year, as his company's gain in book value/share failed to outpace the S&P 500.
A number of economic reports released today presented a mixed picture of the economy. Personal income and construction spending declined, while consumer confidence improved slightly and the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index increased by more than expected.
There were no particularly big movers on the Dow today. A day after it was the biggest loser on the blue chips, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) came back strong, gaining 1.4%. There was no company-specific news on the retail giant, but it may have gotten a boost from Best Buy (NYSE:BBY), which posted better-than-expected quarterly results, lifting the big-box retailer 4.6%. As both ride the same retail trends and are in the sights of Amazon.com, Wal-Mart investors likely reacted positively to the report. Earnings per share for the electronics chain was better than expected at $1.64, though that was a 24% drop from a year ago. Revenue was up 0.2%, domestic same-store sales increased 0.9%, and the online channel improved 11.2%, perhaps in response to Amazon's moves to start charging sales tax in some states.
Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) was the only Dow stock to fall more than 1.1%, apparently on concerns about its European market after it announced it would cut 1,400 jobs in Belgium due to slow demand growth. Investors also reacted to news that it may be confronted with 800 workers going on strike at its Wisconsin plant, where a contract with the United Steelworkers is set to expire at the end of April.