On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) rose almost 100 points, setting a new record for the seventh time in 2014, and carrying the broader stock market up along with it. Although most market commentators point to the European Central Bank's decision to cut key interest rates in Europe, the Dow and other U.S. markets fared better than many major stock markets in Europe, suggesting that investors are happier with the strength of the domestic economy in light of Europe's ongoing woes. Nevertheless, even on a record-setting day, a few stocks got left out, and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) and Nike (NYSE:NKE) were the worst performers in the average today.
Nike's decline of one-third of a percent came in the wake of the athletic-apparel maker dealing with troubles on a couple of fronts. First, with the key World Cup soccer championship coming up in just more than a week, Nike has ramped up its soccer advertising campaign, with one of its ads featuring Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo having gone viral worldwide. Yet, questions about a possible injury for Ronaldo could prevent Nike from cashing in on the hype as much as it had hoped, especially if Portugal fails to make it through the knockout round in a tough preliminary group. At the same time, rival Under Armour received favorable comments from analysts yesterday, with many believing that the smaller company could take full advantage of greater growth potential than many give it credit for, especially if it can keep competing sharply against Nike.
For UnitedHealth, though, today's nearly 1% drop seems unjustified in light of yesterday's announcement from the health-insurance company that it would boost its dividend payout by more than a third, and implement a 100-million share buyback program. Even though returning capital to shareholders is usually a positive move for a stock, UnitedHealth Group investors still worry about the impact of the Affordable Care Act and other pressures on the health-insurance industry on the company's earnings. With UnitedHealth having seen earnings fall in the first quarter due, in part, to Obamacare and other government health-care programs, investors want greater assurances that the industry will not only survive health-care reform, but also find new ways to boost profits. With UnitedHealth's presence in the Brazilian insurance market through its Amil subsidiary, and with strong growth in its Optum health management and information segment, shareholders should be optimistic that UnitedHealth can break out of a slump and start hitting new all-time highs of its own.