After years of the economy needing financial life support from the Federal Reserve, it's no surprise that investors are nervous about the prospect of the Fed pulling the plug at some point in the future. Even discussions about the future need to scale back on quantitative easing and accommodative monetary policy were enough to turn early gains into a 76-point decline for the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) today. The scariest part of the market's reaction is that the Fed hasn't decided anything, and if anything, the hard-line members of the Fed who made their opinions known today still appear to be outnumbered by peers who are more inclined to be too easy with money rather than risking a too-early exit.
Nevertheless, some of the Dow's components took a pretty hard hit on the day. Home Depot (NYSE:HD) was the day's big Dow loser, falling more than 2.5%. Despite big gains in home prices lately, investors have increasingly questioned whether the recovery in the housing market is credible. With mortgage rates having risen by more than half a percentage point in the past month, concerns that marginal buyers will be priced out of the housing market are leading some investors to conclude that growth might slow, having a negative impact on home-improvement retail activity at Home Depot.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) also ended down, losing 1.7% on the day. It's hard to pin too much of today's decline for the tech giant on the Fed, though, as the more likely catalyst for the drop was news that its Xbox One gaming system might well end up coming out with a higher price tag for consumers than rival Sony's (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4. With about a $50 cost advantage in terms of materials used by the two gaming systems, Sony could launch at $349 vs. $399 for Microsoft, according to an analyst at Wedbush Securities. The companies haven't confirmed those price points, but Sony's stock rose about 1.5% on the speculation.
Finally, outside the Dow, Dollar General (NYSE:DG) plunged 9% after a poor earnings report. Citing the payroll tax increase and weaker margins due to greater markdowns and a lower-margin mix of products, the deep-discount retailer narrowed its earnings and revenue guidance to the lower half of its previously projected range. If the Fed's moves put further pressure on consumers, then Dollar General could keep seeing pressure even as it expands ambitiously to add to its store count nationwide.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends Home Depot and owns shares of Microsoft. 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.
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