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Markets Slip as Uncertainty Rises

By Dan Dzombak - Sep 20, 2013 at 12:35PM

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Comments from a Fed governor and the potential defunding of Obamacare are hurting stock markets today.

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on market changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

Uncertainty over government and central-bank action is pulling the markets down today. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on Bloomberg Television that this month's decision not to pare back quantitative easing was "a borderline decision" stemming from weaker data, adding that a small reduction of QE could happen at the meeting next month if economic data improves. Also adding to uncertainty, the House of Representatives passed a bill to keep the government running, but the bill also defunds Obamacare. While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid believes he can remove the provisions defunding Obamacare, it will be a tough battle. As of 1:25 p.m. EDT the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI -0.70%) is down 98 points, or 0.63%, while the S&P 500 (^GSPC -1.03%) is down 0.47%.

There were no U.S. economic releases today. Bullard's comments come just two days after the Federal Open Market Committee's announcement that it will leave its quantitative-easing program unchanged. In a further interview with Bloomberg, Bullard said the Fed will particularly look at the September jobs report and the strength of the housing market. The Fed has said all along that it will taper QE if the economy looks likely to improve, so its decision to wait shows that the Fed is still uncertain that will happen in the second half of the year.

The situation in Syria has kept Congress from focusing on next year's budget or increasing the debt limit, which the Treasury expects will be hit sometime in October. Today's bill in the House of Representatives is the first step in what should be a contentious battle. Republicans are hoping to use the debt limit as a bargaining chip to stop Obamacare, while President Obama has said he will not negotiate over raising the debt limit. The threat of a government shutdown is very real if a bill to raise the debt limit is not passed, but it is unlikely either side would let that happen.

Microsoft's (MSFT -1.11%) stock is down 2.5%, leading the Dow lower today. Yesterday Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer met with industry analysts to talk about Microsoft's plans for the future. He emphasized that Microsoft must work to maintain the PC as the primary device of the workplace. Microsoft has been in the news recently after announcing the acquisition of Nokia's mobile-phone business, the retirement of CEO Steve Ballmer, a major restructuring, and a rise in its dividend to $0.28 per quarter for a yield of 3.4%. The one thing that wasn't discussed at the meeting was who will lead Microsoft once Ballmer is gone. Microsoft CFO Amy Hood said, "The board continues on the process we laid out in late August."

Dan Dzombak can be found on Twitter @DanDzombak or on his Facebook page, DanDzombak. He owns shares of Bank of America but not other stocks mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool 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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Stocks Mentioned

Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
^DJI
$33,760.39 (-0.70%) $-238.65
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD) Stock Quote
S&P 500 Index - Price Return (USD)
^GSPC
$4,239.46 (-1.03%) $-44.28
Microsoft Corporation Stock Quote
Microsoft Corporation
MSFT
$286.94 (-1.11%) $-3.23

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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