Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over daily movements, we do like to keep an eye on changes in the Dow Jones Industrials and other markets -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.
The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) has made wild movements throughout much of this month as the government shutdown and debt ceiling debate dominated the discussion. With the crisis having been resolved for now, the Dow has become less volatile as investors turn their attention toward Dow component earnings to drive the average's movements. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow is down 20 points, adding to yesterday's forgettable two-point decline.
Inside the Dow, though, a bigger tug-of-war occurred between winner General Electric (NYSE:GE) and loser UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH). As predicted, General Electric helped move the Dow today with a 2% gain after a strong earnings report. Even though General Electric's overall sales and net income fell from year-ago levels, the conglomerate saw huge growth in its core industrial businesses. Given that General Electric has worked hard to de-emphasize its GE Capital financial unit, the fact that it posted poor results only validates the company's strategic plan.
On the other hand, UnitedHealth Group extended its earnings-related losses from yesterday, dropping 2.7% after the health insurance giant got downgraded by analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald. Long-term investors should remain nervous not because of UnitedHealth's performance in its most recent quarter but because of big-picture trends in the health insurance industry. In particular, UnitedHealth Group identified Medicare Advantage reimbursement reductions as having a potential negative impact on future earnings, and as the company with the biggest Medicare Advantage business, UnitedHealth stands to lose a lot from any possible cuts.
For the Dow Jones Industrials on the whole, ongoing earnings skirmishes like this will continue over the next few weeks. The fate of the Dow for the rest of the year could depend on whether winners like General Electric end up outnumbering losers like UnitedHealth Group.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric. 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.