Keep an Eye on These 3 Dow Stocks

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) started out by tracking the leading U.S. industrial companies of the late 19th century. After starting with 12 companies, it has since expanded to a list of 30 companies and is used, along with the S&P 500, to track the general health of the stock market.

Changes to the index are generally rare, with alterations occurring on only 48 dates since 1896. Changing the components of the index is done on an as-needed basis and typically occurs only after significant changes in a company's core business. The most recent changes to the index came in 2009, when General Motors (NYS: GM) declared bankruptcy and Citigroup (NYS: C) was bailed out by the government. We saw a similar change in late 2008 as well, when American International Group (NYS: AIG) was removed after its own government bailout.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the companies of the Dow and see whether there was some room for change, adding companies that by Dow Jones' own standards have "an excellent reputation, demonstrate sustained growth, and are of interest to a large number of investors." I'll suggest some possible additions in the next article in this series, but before we get there, we need to identify some companies that may have overstayed their welcome on the Dow to make room for better choices. Three current components of the index seem to fit this bill.

Long-term member with recent hard times
The first company that I view as replaceable has been on the Dow for more than 50 years. Alcoa (NYS: AA) produces a commodity that is used in numerous industrial applications, including airplanes and automobiles. Upcoming increases in automobile fuel economy has led many car manufacturers to shift from aluminum and other metals to plastic, and aerospace leader Boeing's recent switch to carbon composites could greatly affect aluminum prices in the future.

In addition, Alcoa currently has the smallest market cap of the 30 companies in the average, and one of the smaller yields. It has not been demonstrating sustained growth, and its stock price has fallen by an average of 11.4% annually over the past 10 years. With a short float of more than 5%, a small group of investors are betting that the company continues its downward spiral, making it the most shorted stock currently on the Dow Jones index. If Alcoa continues along this path, its presence on the Dow Jones could be nearing an end.

First a bailout, then poor performance
The next company that I see as near its way out is one of the most recent additions to the index. That doesn't guarantee long-term placement on the list, and a company like AIG proved that when it was removed from the list in 2008 after just more than four years on the average. To make it to that length of time, Bank of America (NYS: BAC) would need to remain on the Dow until July 2012. If it continues along its current self-destructive path, it might force the Dow Jones people to find a suitable replacement for the company sooner than later.

Bank of America can't seem to get anything right recently. It announced that it was implementing a $5 fee for debit card usage, only to back off when customers complained. TheNew York Times accused it of breaking antifraud laws it agreed never to breach. The list goes on and on. Combine these with a loss of more than 85% of its value since its addition to the Dow, and it may not be able to show the same longevity as AIG once did.

Management shuffling can't be good
Unlike Bank of America, Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) has shown at least a small return since its addition in 1997, returning a modest 2.6% annually. It was added primarily because of its explosive growth from 1991 to 1997, when it gained 372.4%. But much of the past two years have been spent eroding its once-stellar reputation, which could ultimately lead to its replacement on the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

Former CEO Mark Hurd arrived in 2005, but it was his ouster in 2010 that began to change the perception of the company. The next ex-CEO, Leo Apotheker, lasted less than a year, leaving with a rather large severance as payment for destroying nearly $52 billion in shareholder value. Current CEO Meg Whitman took over in September, and HP decided to ultimately stay in the PC business after previously announcing it was getting out. This apparent lack of direction might be the perfect excuse to replace the company on the Dow, as its overseers often make adjustments when there are "significant changes in a company's core business." Whether HP's confusion can be viewed as significant is open to interpretation, but I think its tenure may be coming to an end.

Magic 8 Ball says "Maybe"
Although only the folks at Dow Jones know what the future to their eponymous average will hold, these three companies have all exhibited something that makes me question their long-term viability on an index that tracks great-performing U.S. companies. That being said, I will put my guru hat on again in a future article and try to locate some companies that might make some sense in future versions of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. One way to keep up with potential developments is to add these companies to My Watchlist, our free company tracker that keeps you up to date with all the latest news. Check it out today!

At the time this article was published Fool contributorRobert Eberhardholds no position in any company mentioned. Check out hisholdings and a short bio. Follow him on Twitter, where he goes by@GuruEbby. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup and Bank of America.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of General Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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