It's been a bumpy ride for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) this morning, which is down 57 points at 11 a.m. EDT. Following another record close yesterday, the index has been fighting to stay close to those new heights after disappointing economic and international news generated concerns among investors. And with earnings season under way, new records are being set in the financial sector, but shareholders may be looking for quality over quantity.
Economic concerns abound
Retail sales fell 0.4% last month, disappointing analysts and investors, who had expected a flatline trend for March. On top of the weakened retail news, the University of Michigan's Consumer Sentiment Index fell to a nine-month low, with many consumers feeling concerned about the economic recovery stalling. The index tumbled from 78.6 down to 72.3, while analysts had expected a measly 0.1-point drop. While the question remains as to how consumer spending will ramp up in the future, the current news signals a slowing thanks to increased taxes and forced unpaid furloughs for government employees.
Business inventories grew slightly, up 0.1% over the previous month -- the weakest growth seen since June 2012. Analysts had anticipated a 0.4% boost. At the same time, the Producer Price Index fell 0.6% in March, the biggest drop seen in 10 months -- mostly due to a fall in gasoline prices.
Meanwhile in Europe, officials are getting set to discuss the current Cyprus bailout over a two-day meeting. Investors are cautious when it comes to Cyprus, since it is uncertain whether the current bailout (totaling $13 billion) will be sufficient to keep the country going during an extended recession. Others fear that an increase in the money given to Cyprus may create a precedent for other countries that fall on hard times, creating a greater burden for the European Union to carry.
Earnings can't save you
Both inside and out of the Dow, the financial sector is taking a hit following two of the nation's biggest banks' earnings reports this morning. Dow component JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and rival Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) both reported record earnings this morning, but signaled pressure on revenue generation. The two banks were in the top spots for mortgage origination in the latter part of 2012, and while JPMorgan noted that there seems to be more space to grow in that market, Wells' revenue drop was largely due to fewer new mortgage loans. Wells Fargo's mortgage profits were $2.5 billion in the first quarter, which showed a 9% decrease from the previous quarter and a 3% decrease from first quarter 2012.
JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon also noted that he expects the pressure on net interest margins to continue, putting increased strain on revenue. Wells CEO John Stumpf stated that he doesn't feel that the current environment is conducive to earnings growth.
As investors look for more than just the bottom line, increased pressure is building on banks that will present their earnings next week -- namely Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) on Wednesday and Citigroup (NYSE:C) on Monday. As a component of the Dow, B of A is not helping the index this morning, down by 1.3% so far. But both of these banks have done something that the other two didn't have to -- rebuild after the financial crisis.
If investors are really looking for banks to have solid internals, B of A and Citi may have the competition beat, since both streamlined operations and have been working heavily on improving the entire business. Though neither may meet the record-high earnings of JPMorgan or Wells, investors may still take great stock in any reported progress made by either bank.
Fool contributor Jessica Alling has no position in any stocks mentioned, but you can contact her here. The Motley Fool recommends Wells Fargo. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Wells Fargo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.