Earth-Moving News on the Dow

"Et tu, Charles," Ben Bernanke must have uttered when he learned of Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia president Charles Plosser's comments today. Speaking on the invitation of the CFA Society of Philadelphia and the Bond Club of Philadelphia, Plosser criticized the Fed's decision to launch a new round of quantitative easing (bond-buying), saying, "We are unlikely to see much benefit to growth or unemployment."

Pundits are fingering Plosser as the cause of today's three-quarters-of-a-percentage-point decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) , after the index spent the first half of the day in positive territory. Given the market's fragile reliance on Fed munificence, it wouldn't surprise me if Plosser's comments were the causal factor, but I would note that, since the Fed's Sept. 14 decision, several Fed bank presidents have already publicly criticized the QE program, including Richmond Fed president Jeffrey Lacker, who cast the only dissenting vote in the Federal Open Market Committee.

One Dow stock that underperformed today was construction and mining equipment Caterpillar (NYS: CAT) , which fell 4.2%, exacerbating yesterday's 0.9% decline. Speaking after the market close yesterday, Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman reduced the company's guidance for 2015 from its prior earnings range of $15 to $20 to a range of $12 to $18. Note that not only is the midpoint of the range lower, but the range is wider. That's consistent with Oberhelman's justification that "there are a number of geopolitical and economic factors driving uncertainty in the world today, but our best-case scenario calls for modest global economic growth over the next few years [emphasis mine]." If you want to be able to frame this development in the context of a long-term investment in Caterpillar, I suggest you read The Motley Fool's premium report on the company, which includes a full year of updates.

Caterpillar's news is consistent with the notion of an "earnings recession" that I think will weigh on stocks over the next couple of quarters. Over the past month, the consensus earnings estimate for next fiscal year has fallen for almost half of the stocks in the Dow (13 of 30, to be precise). When one looks at the top-line (revenue) estimate, that proportion increases to two-thirds.

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