Even with few major economic releases to make news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) fell nearly 60 points as of 11:30 a.m. EST. Dow component IBM (NYSE:IBM) was leading its index lower, while other tech stocks, including Rackspace Hosting (NYSE:RAX) and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), were active.
Retail sales decline
Redbook retail sales data was just about the only economic release on Wednesday. According to Redbook Research, U.S. retail sales fell 0.2% in the first two weeks of January on a month-over-month basis, but edged up 3.1% from the prior year. That might have been seen as an encouraging sign, but the data isn't so crucial to warrant an estimate from most economists.
IBM posts disappointing quarter
Far more important to the Dow Jones was the sell-off in component stock IBM. Big Blue shares were down more than 3.9% early on Wednesday, following a disappointing earnings release. For the fourth quarter, IBM earned $6.13 per share, which more than analysts had anticipated. But revenue of $27.7 billion fell short of estimates. This is now the third quarter in a row in which IBM's revenue has disapointed analysts.
Yet IBM's management remains hopeful. In 2014, it expects IBM to earn $18 per share, an increase of about 7% from 2013.
Rackspace falls as competition increases
Rackspace shares were also selling off, down about 4% in morning trading. With a price-to-earnings ratio of more than 50, Rackspace remains somewhat of a high-flying stock, which is why Amazon.com's recent announcement may have been so devastating to the company.
Rackspace, as a provider of cloud infrastructure, competes with Amazon Web Services. Amazon announced that it would cut the price of some of its cloud services, including block storage. As a competitor, Rackspace may have to reduce its own prices, or risk losing market share.
Apple jumps on Icahn tweet
Apple shares rose than 1.2% early in the session. In a tweet, activist investor Carl Icahn revealed that he purchased $500 million worth of Apple shares, bringing his total investment in the company to more than $3 billion.
Given Apple's market cap -- about $500 billion -- Icahn's stake in Apple is still relatively tiny. Still, Icahn has a legendary track record, and his support of the company might be seen as a positive. Moreover, Icahn has been pushing Apple's management to increase its stock repurchase program, and if he's buying more shares, it might be more likely that Icahn will get his way.