The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) did their best Friday morning to halt a string of dramatic losses that have sent the index down by almost 270 points over the past two days. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow was just under breakeven, reflecting the continued concerns that investors have about how sustainable the long bull market will be in the immediate future. With the blue-chip index having gone so long without a major correction, investors have tried for years to guess when the next one would arrive, and that has everyone antsy about every sign of a decline. The flattish performance for the Dow hid some crosscurrents within the average, as Home Depot (NYSE:HD) gained ground even as Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) fell.
Home Depot's modest 0.8% gain likely came in part as a response to solid economic data on the housing front this morning. The Commerce Department announced that housing starts in the U.S. jumped more than 13% in April to an annual rate of 1.07 million, with all four parts of the nation seeing gains. Even more impressively, the 8% rise building permits to 1.08 million marked the best level in almost six years. Unlike housing starts, which are more weather-dependent since they reflect actual building activity, permits should theoretically not have been as influenced by weather considerations, and that has economists more excited about what the increase implies for future homebuilding.
Good news on the housing front is obviously good news for Dow component Home Depot, which gets business from contractors in the homebuilding industry, as well as homeowners who have recently bought homes or are seeking to renovate existing properties. Home Depot reports earnings next week, and investors will be curious to see how well the home-improvement retailer fared in its cold winter quarter.
Intel was among with Dow's big decliners with a drop of 0.6%. The chipmaker has continues to face challenges in evolving its business away from its core PC processor focus toward mobile devices. News earlier this week that Intel might lose potential smartphone business with an existing partner to its archrival was just the latest in a series of setbacks that have plagued the company's efforts to get better mobile-market penetration. Moreover, Intel has a big wall to climb in becoming more competitive on the graphics front, with competitors sporting superior products even in the PC area, let alone mobile. Even as the chipmaker sports one of the most attractive valuations in the Dow on an earnings-multiple basis, Intel investors have to question whether it can produce the growth necessary to justify even those modest multiples in the future.