The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) was trading 43 points lower, or 0.26%, after mixed economic data hit the news feeds. On the bright side, personal spending rose 0.9% in March from the previous month's level, according to Morningstar. The spending improvement was the biggest increase in half a decade. Incomes were also up more than anticipated, rising 0.5% on a seasonally adjusted basis. On the downside, initial unemployment claims rose a larger than expected 14,000 last week to 344,000. As the markets continue to search for a direction today, here are some companies making headlines.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally will retire early. Source: Ford.

Outside the Dow, Ford  (NYSE:F) on Thursday confirmed recent speculation that CEO Alan Mulally would indeed step down early.

Mulally, who has been credited with turning the once-troubled automaker around in impressive fashion, will retire from Ford on July 1. He previously had indicated plans to stay with the company through 2014. Ford has named Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields as president and CEO, effective July 1, which will complete the long-planned, and hopefully seamless, leadership transition.

"From the first day we discussed Ford's transformation eight years ago, Alan and I agreed that developing the next generation of leaders and ensuring an orderly CEO succession were among our highest priorities," Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in a statement. "Mark has transformed several of our operations around the world into much stronger businesses during his 25 years at Ford. Now, Mark is ready to lead our company into the future as CEO."

What Mulally has accomplished since taking the helm in 2006 is nothing short of impressive. Consider that Ford lost more than $30 billion between 2006 and 2008, then managed to turn a profit in 2009; meanwhile, Ford's two crosstown rivals were forced into bankruptcy.

This will likely be more of a painless process than many realize. Fields had been slowly taking over day-to-day operations at Ford while Mulally took a more long-term focus for the company. The apparent smoothness of the changeover was demonstrated during Ford's recent first-quarter earnings presentation, when no industry analysts asked about Mulally's rumored early departure. There were a number of questions on the matter from journalists, confirming to me that this is more of a news headline matter than any cause for investors to worry.

Inside the Dow, Boeing (NYSE:BA) investors have a little more insight into the commercial aircraft that will fuel the company's growth over the next couple decades. Boeing expects to finish flight testing its stretched 787-9 Dreamliner in the next couple months and hopes to deliver it around the middle of this year, according to Reuters. Boeing will also begin manufacturing components for its 737 MAX jetliner in 2014 and plans for final assembly to start by the middle of 2015. The aviation giant also mentioned it was "well along" the way in choosing suppliers for its 777X wide-body jet, which should enter service in 2020, Reuters reported.

Those three aircraft families will account for more than half of Boeing's commercial plane sales over the next two decades, according to the company. There will be a lot of sales up for grabs as the company expects the world fleet to double in size, which will be worth an estimated $4.8 trillion over the next two decades.

"What we have in work today really is the future of Boeing Commercial Airplanes," said Scott Fancher, senior vice president for airplane development, according to Reuters. 

Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. 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.