Lights Go Out, but Dow Gets a Win

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After a six-day slide, the Dow Jones Industrial Average finally had a winning session, closing up 66 points, or 0.4%, on a day when a three-hour outage on the Nasdaq froze much of the market. Wall Street seemed to recover from yesterday's late dip following the Federal Reserve's minutes, as nothing really changed regarding expectations of the coming stimulus taper. Economic reports were mostly positive, as last week's initial unemployment claims came in at 336,000, essentially in line with estimates. While that was an increase of 13,000 from the figure a week ago, it brought the four-week moving average to 330,500, its lowest level since November 2007, indicating that the domestic employment picture continues to improve. Leading indicators for July were up 0.6%, 0.1% better than expectations, and home prices increased 0.7% in June.

Following its earnings report last night, Hewlett-Packard shares imploded today, falling 12.5% as the market was turned off by poor results in its enterprise division. With PC sales being displaced by tablets, enterprise is seen as the crux of HP's turnaround strategy, but sales in the segment fell 9.4%, and CEO Meg Whitman installed a new head in the division. HP did report results essentially in line with estimates, but the only growth area in the report was software, which moved up a piddling 1%. The tech heavyweight also said it doesn't see revenue growth coming in 2014 as it had earlier promised.

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HP's closest cousin on the Dow, Microsoft , finished at the other end of the spectrum today, gaining 2.5% after an upgrade from Nomura to "buy" from "neutral." The research firm said it sees a benefit from ValueACT's stake in the company and push for change. The activist firm may get a seat on Microsoft's board, and it seeks to steer the software giant toward enterprise solutions and cloud-based services and away from consumer software. Given Microsoft's tumble in its earnings report and HP's recent performance in enterprise, this strategy seems dubious to me.

Finally, Alcoa and Caterpillar were also big gainers today, moving up 2.4% and 1.5%, respectively. The two manufacturing have been the worst-performing Dow components this year because of weak demand for their products, but a strong manufacturing report from China helped boost shares today. The HSBC Purchasing Manufacturers Index jumped to 50.1, a four-month high, up from 47.7 in July. The figure shows a slight expansion, and that manufacturing activity may be finally stabilizing in China, a key market for Alcoa and Caterpillar.

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Fool contributor Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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