What has two thumbs and is killing your 401(k)? If you said Ben Bernanke, you're our next winner!!!
Well, the Fed chairman may not deserve all the blame for the market's recent drop, but that's certainly what Wall Street seems to believe. For the second day in a row, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) fell more than 100 points, again on concerns about central bank tightening, ending down 127 points, or 0.8%, slightly below 15,000 at 14,995. The blue chips actually opened up more than 100 points, but those gains quickly disappeared.
Yesterday, a lack of monetary policy action by the Bank of Japan sent stocks into a tailspin while today, on a day with no major economic reports out, the Dow sunk on general fears about the Fed cutting its stimulus. The next major Fed announcement will come next Wednesday, when it provides its latest decision and thoughts on the benchmark interest rate, which it's held at 0.25% for nearly five years.
Today's news wasn't all bad, though, as a report showed that last year the U.S. had the world's biggest increase in oil output and its biggest increase ever adding more than 1 million barrels a day in production to 8.9 million a day, or a 14% jump. The additional output has helped keep oil prices down, ensures a steady supply for American consumers, and aids U.S. foreign policy interests.
On the big board today, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) shares rode higher against the tide, gaining 2.8% as investors were jazzed by CEO Meg Whitman's declaration in a CNBC interview that revenue growth was "still possible" in 2014. Of course, HP would be taking two steps back and one step forward in that approach as revenue is declining this year, but that prediction amounts to good news for the haggard PC maker. Despite its struggles, shares have boomed this year, and Whitman today said that her turnaround plan is moving ahead of schedule. The company also bested earnings estimates in its recent report. Analysts project revenue declines of 7.4% and 2.2% in fiscal 2013 and 2014, respectively.
Pacing the Dow's decline for the second day in a row was American Express (NYSE:AXP), which fell 2.4% today on no company-specific news. General worries about economic weakness, concerns about riots in Turkey affecting tourism, and a lawsuit against Visa that could bear consequences for the industry all seem to be combining to push the credit card company lower.
Finally, Safeway (NYSE:SWY) shares were up 30% after hours as the supermarket chain agreed to sell its Canadian operations for $5.7 billion to Sobeys, the No. 2 grocery company in the Great White North. With only about 13% of its total store count north of the border, the deal appears to be a windfall for Safeway as its market cap was just $5.5 billion before the deal was announced. However, Fitch ratings reaffirmed its BBB- credit rating with a negative outlook on the supermarket chain after the deal, noting that the Canadian locations had higher profit margins so the deal will hurt overall profitability. Safeway plans to use the funds, which should total about $4 billion after taxes, to pay down $2 billion of its $6.2 billion debt burden, buy back stock, and potentially invest in "growth opportunities."
Before markets open tomorrow, look for the initial unemployment claims report out at 8:30 a.m., which could affect markets as it's the first indicator of current employment trends since last Friday's strong jobs report. Economists project 345,000 new claims.
Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends American Express. 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.