What to Keep an Eye On From the Dow Today

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After dropping more than 90 points in morning trading yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) rallied late and managed to squeak out a modest 0.15% gain. Before the late surge, the Dow was driven down early yesterday by slightly lower fourth-quarter GDP estimates from the Commerce Department and the weekly initial unemployment claims report, which showed that more workers than expected filed for unemployment benefits, although the number did hit its lowest level since April 2008.

Today, investors will be hoping that new economic reports released this morning can help the Dow finish out the week strong.

What to watch today
Investors will be keeping a close eye this morning on the Department of Commerce's personal income and spending report for February. Economists expect personal income to post its third straight rise, while personal spending is expected to increase from January, buoyed by strong auto sales. Ford (NYS: F) posted an impressive 14.3% increase in February auto sales versus a year ago, significantly outpacing domestic rival General Motors (NYS: GM) , which itself posted a 1.1% increase.


The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index will also be released this morning. The report is a monthly measure of business conditions for the Chicago region, which tends to correlate well with national manufacturing activities. Economists expect the Chicago PMI to drop to 62 in March from 64 in February. That would still be solidly above 50, which represents expansion.

Finally, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index will be released this morning at 10:00 ET. The index has grown for six straight months, but economists forecast that rising gas prices might help end that positive streak this month.

Earnings
Outside the Dow, there is one earnings report in particular that investors will be watching closely. Dividend monster Chimera (NYS: CIM) is expected to post earnings of $0.10 per share, down from $0.14 a year ago. Chimera is down about 30% over the past year, but it pays out an incredible 15.5% dividend yield. The company recently announced that its first-quarter dividend will stay at $0.11, the same payout as last year's fourth quarter but down from $0.13 per share in the third quarter of last year.

The big picture
While it's important to pay close attention to the market, it's also important to not to get too worked up about what happens in the short term. The most successful stock picks are usually great business that can grow and continue to succeed over many years. Our analysts have uncovered one such company in our new report, "The Motley Fool's Top Stock for 2012." It highlights a company that is revolutionizing commerce in Latin America. You can get instant access to the name of this company -- it's absolutely free.

At the time this article was published Brendan Byrnes owns no shares of any company mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of General Motors and Ford and creating a synthetic long position in Ford. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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