After holding the line most of the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) tumbled late in the session, finishing down 209 points, or 1.4%. There was no particular cause for today's drop, though the sell-off seemed to be the result of several brewing factors. Among them, recent comments from the Fed about scaling back its bond-buying program have spooked the market, which believes continued stimulus is necessary to spur the recovery, and treasury yields have reached their highest mark in over a year, inducing some to sell their dividend stocks and go with safer government bonds.
Stocks are also up nearly 15% this year, and many on Wall Street seem to believe that the rally has exhausted itself, and investors are taking the opportunities to collect profits with equities at all-time highs.
Economic reports this morning were mostly positive as the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index soared in May, jumping from 49.0 a month ago to 58.3, indicating a strong expansion. Analysts had expected a figure of just 49.3. Consumer sentiment also crept higher in the University of Michigan survey, hitting its highest mark since July 2007 at 84.5, up from 83.7 in April, which analysts had predicted to hold steady this month. Elsewhere, personal spending fell in April by 0.2% for the first time in nearly year, a figure that seems to contradict the new highs in consumer confidence.
All but two of the 30 Dow stocks finished the day down, with Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) among the sharpest decliners, falling 3.4%. The drop shouldn't be a major surprise as HP has been one of the most volatile Dow stocks this year -- and its best performer -- as HP's prospects in the declining PC market are a hotly debated topic. Today, reports came out that the company is putting its $1 billion stake in MphasiS, an Indian IT services exporter. Reuters said that the Carlyle Group and the Blackstone Group are among those preparing bids. The sales wouldn't seem to have provoked the sell-off as it fits with its strategy of divesting so it can refocus on core products and enterprise business solutions.
Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) was also down 3%, but unlike the rest of the Dow, it fell early in today's session. With A.G. Lafley back at the helm, the consumer goods giant announced it would reorganize into four groups, with a single executive in charge of each segment, one of whom would be Lafley's successor in a few years. Currently, the company has just two categories: beauty and grooming, and household care. The division or names of the four categories are unclear at this point.
Finally, UnitedHealth (NYSE:UNH) tumbled 3.1% as the health insurer said it would only join 12 statewide exchanges of the 50 that are being organized under the Affordable Care Act. The nation's largest health insurer believes that the first wave of applicants could be those with high need, and is seeking to avoid the excess costs. Cigna and Aetna also seem to be following a similar strategy, but these companies could be missing out on a rare opportunity for a raft of new customers and revenues.