It wasn't quite as dramatic as its last meeting, but the Federal Reserve once again deflated a stock market rally with its latest pronouncement on monetary policy. While last month's warning about the potential for a reduction in the pace of bond purchases led to a 200-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI), today's reaffirmation of expectations of continued economic strengthening amid lower-than-expected inflation merely led to a 21-point drop for the average, after having been up as much as 110 points earlier in the session. Stocks actually initially rose after the Fed announcement but gave back those gains and then some by the close of trading. The S&P 500 finished the day almost unchanged.
Still, many Dow stocks held onto gains. UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) climbed 0.8%, as the Federal Reserve's monetary policy has almost no impact on the business dynamics the health-insurance giant is facing right now. Rather, positive earnings news from its peers underscored the opportunity that UnitedHealth has to get new customers onto its insurance rolls in the wake of Obamacare's coming individual mandate, as well as Medicaid reforms that could bolster that part of its business as well.
Disney (NYSE:DIS) posted a gain of 0.7%, likely in sympathy with network-rival Comcast's positive earnings news, which sent Comcast stock up more than 5%. With Comcast seeing some considerable gains in its overall business from its NBCUniversal unit, investors likely decided that prospects for Disney's ABC and ESPN offerings could see some of the same growth potential. As valuable content commands ever-greater premiums, having a vertically integrated operation that includes content creation, delivery, and marketing should help Disney's results well into the future.
Finally, Dow banks JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) both gained ground today, although they too fell back from initial gains after the Fed announcement. Interest rates clearly have a big impact on their businesses, but the Fed's monetary policy decisions have potentially conflicting effects. On one hand, rising long-term rates accompanied by continued accommodation on the short-end of the yield curve should boost profits. Yet if mortgage refinancing activity dries up, B of A and JPMorgan Chase could lose a valuable source of revenue. Which way those trends play out will go a long way toward determining the long-term direction of bank stocks generally.