The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) had fallen a modest 22 points as of 11 a.m. EDT Friday. Most market watchers pointed to the Commerce Department report that showed a 0.1% drop in consumer spending last month. Although bears focused on the fact that it was the first time that the measure had declined in about a year, bulls noted that March's consumer-spending figure soared 1%, and so the two figures smooth out to reasonably strong activity over the last couple months. Moreover, Dow consumer giants Nike (NYSE:NKE) and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) posted gains despite the weak data.
Nike gained 0.3% as investors turn their focus to the coming FIFA World Cup soccer tournament in Brazil, which begins in less than two weeks. Nike has worked hard to compete against its primary rivals to sponsor apparel, footwear, and other high-profile items for players on as many of the 32 teams playing in the 2014 installment of soccer's world championship as possible. Nike hopes that top players like Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo, England's Wayne Rooney, and Brazil's Neymar will make it well into the knockout round in order to maximize its exposure to the world's most popular sport, where the Dow component and athletic giant has historically lagged behind Adidas. Given the premium that consumers are willing to pay for Nike products, the company shouldn't be too concerned about a short-term dip in consumer spending.
At the other end of the spectrum, Wal-Mart picked up 0.7% despite catering to a customer base that is much more sensitive to economic conditions. Wal-Mart has been fighting against negative comments from a major proxy-advisory firm, which recommended that shareholders vote against the Dow component's compensation plan and also recommended voting against former CEO Michael Duke and current Chairman Rob Walton. Wal-Mart has argued that the proxy firm is using too much information from a source that is potentially biased. Moreover, from an economic standpoint, if consumers are ramping down on their spending, then they're more likely to go to discount retailers like Wal-Mart rather than paying up for premium retail offerings.
The Dow Jones Industrials are definitely sensitive to the health of the consumer economy, and it makes sense to watch the latest figures to see how consumers are faring. But today's moves in the Dow also emphasize how important it is to look beyond a single month's figures to capture a longer-term perspective on the health of the economy. Otherwise, you can draw bad inferences about the stocks that serve consumers the most.
Dan Caplinger has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Nike. The Motley Fool owns shares of Nike. 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.