The stock market edged lower on Thursday, as defensive sectors like telecom and utilities managed to outperform. This is the fourth time in five days that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) has fallen, though the market's off less than 0.5% during that time. Today, it lost just four points, or less than 0.1%, to end at 16,264.
McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) couldn't help the Dow much on Thursday, adding just 0.3%. Not much changes from day-to-day with McDonald's, whose golden arches are one of the most recognizable brand symbols in the world. But for blue chip companies like Mickey D's to maintain their dominance, they've got to fend off competition, and embrace innovation and change in the industry. McDonald's isn't doing a great job at either of these. Yum! Brands' Taco Bell is now using real people named Ronald McDonald to endorse the taco haven's new breakfast menu. And McDonald's has been slow to embrace smartphone payment technology, as well, even as its rivals rush to develop apps for their consumers.
Finally, shares of American Railcar Industries, (NASDAQ: ARII), which makes, services, and leases railcars, shed 4.9% on Thursday. Of the 15 publicly traded railroad stocks in the U.S., 13 fell today, though American Railcar Industries' investors took the worst hit. The Surface Transportation Board held a two-day hearing this week on the issue of competitive switching, which the National Industrial Transportation League said would increase competition. Investors didn't see the merit in the proposal, which could hurt the $1.4 billion American Railcar Industries. McDonald's has issues defending itself at the top of the food chain, but J.C. Penney (OTC:JCPN.Q) would kill to have those dilemmas. "Mo' money, mo' problems" doesn't apply to the corporate world, where companies tend to run across mo' problems in the very effort to acquire mo' money. Even though J.C. Penney doesn't have much money -- it has "liquidity concerns" in Wall Street-speak -- the stock tacked on 2.3% today. The retailer is in much better shape than it was last year after raising cash, taking out a $2.25 billion loan, and closing locations, but my colleague Adam Levine-Weinberg thinks J.C. Penney may need to issue more shares to meet its cash goals in 2014.