UnitedHealth and Microsoft Overcome the Dow's Dive

Wall Street backs off from record highs as UnitedHealth surges behind earnings optimism.

Dan Carroll
Dan Carroll
Jul 17, 2014 at 2:30PM

The market has swooned today as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI), coming off yesterday's new record high, has dipped into the red. As of 2:20 p.m. EDT, the Dow has dropped 80 points, with all but a handful of Dow stocks taking a hit on the day. Earnings season races on, and UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH) has stood out as a winner, riding earnings optimism to the top of the Dow. Fellow Dow riser Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) has put in a good day of its own following the latest cost-cutting reports. Let's catch up on what you need to know.

UnitedHealth hits the mark
UnitedHealth hit the gas in the second quarter: The market's biggest insurer grew revenue by 7%. The company's earnings fell by 2% year over year in Q2, but UnitedHealth topped analyst expectations and has pushed its stock higher by 2.5% so far. Optimism around Obamacare's future convinced the company's leadership to boost the bottom end of its full-year profit guidance and raise its 2014 revenue outlook slightly. Even better for long-term investors, UnitedHealth pushed its dividend higher by 30%.

The expansion of Medicaid has been a huge growth-driver for top insurers in 2014, and UnitedHealth rallied again around that trend in the second quarter. The company's Medicaid enrollment climbed by almost 19%, with 380,000 new members signing up for plans. That strong result has UnitedHealth vowing to expand in 2015 to more government-run exchanges in the new Obamacare landscape, with the company looking to participate in up to two dozen states. Rising medical costs were to be expected with the growth in membership, as medical expenses jumped by 6%, but regardless, UnitedHealth turned in a stellar second quarter.

Source: Microsoft.

Microsoft's stock has also helped the Dow stave off even worse losses today after the tech giant announced it will slash as many as 18,000 jobs -- or around 14% of its employees -- over the course of the next year. CEO Satya Nadella is looking to slim Microsoft down as it absorbs assets it acquired from Nokia, with the cuts likely to shave personnel in areas overlapping with Nokia's device unit.

Wall Street has reacted well to the news, with Microsoft's stock jumping 1.5% this afternoon. Many analysts have urged the company to streamline its structure and save costs, particularly as Microsoft looks to dive into higher growth and highly competitive segments such as mobile. Overall, Nadella projects that the company will take up to $1.6 billion in charges through the coming year as Microsoft absorbs Nokia's units and builds up its mobile portfolio. The cuts were virtually inevitable, however, as the company announced at the time of the Nokia purchase that it aimed to slash $600 million in costs in the 18 months following the major acquisition. So far, it looks like Microsoft is on track.