The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) fell sharply out of the gate on Thursday, as investors worried about a troubling report on consumer spending and responded to hawkish comments from a regional Federal Reserve Bank president. As of 11 a.m. EDT, the Dow was down 80 points after having been off by triple digits earlier in the day. Among the worst performers were JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), each of which responded at least in part to the news of the day, as well as to their own stock-specific issues.
JPMorgan Chase dropped almost 1% after St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard suggested a steeper potential upward move in interest rates on a faster time frame than many investors were expecting, with possible ramifications for its business. Bullard said that with the economy performing fairly well and unemployment falling back toward acceptable levels, rising inflationary pressures are likely to get more attention from the Federal Open Market Committee going forward. That could lead the Fed to raise short-term interest rates as early as the first quarter of 2015, up to a year earlier than less hawkish economists believe is likely. JPMorgan has tried to take advantage of the low-rate environment to boost certain aspects of its business, with a recent $300 million offering of nonagency-backed mortgage bonds showing its willingness to innovate in search of higher profit. Yet higher short-term rates could squeeze net interest margins and further hamper its mortgage origination business, leading to possible problems for growth down the road.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's 1.2% decline came after reports that consumer spending trailed gains in personal income last month, with people holding back on purchases and boosting their savings rates. Microsoft isn't necessarily the company most sensitive to spending trends, but its emphasis on mobile devices, software for personal computers, and gaming consoles has left it increasingly vulnerable to the whims of the consumer economy. With people spending less, Microsoft can't necessarily assume that they'll buy new products like the Surface Pro 3, and therefore the tech giant will have to rely more on spending from large enterprise customers and other businesses to pick up the slack. In a world in which hype can drive tech purchasing, sluggish consumers are the last thing Microsoft needs right now.
For the Dow Jones Industrials to recover, it will need help from both consumers and the Fed. If today's troubling trends continue, they could spell longer-term trouble for the index throughout the rest of 2014.