Why the Dow's All Over the Map Today

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) swerved back and forth this morning, and the afternoon session hasn't brought any stability to today's trading. Let's take a look at why the Dow is down four points as of 2:25 p.m. EDT and experiencing a bumpy ride.

In good news for the Dow, a survey by ADPshowed a gain of 162,000 jobs in the private sector for September -- a decline from August but ahead of expectations. The economic boost continued with the service sector, which the Institute for Supply Management said reached its best growth rate since March. Given that a significant majority of jobs in the private sphere stem from the service sector, the report came as a welcome jolt of optimism for an uncertain economy. No doubt tonight's looming presidential debate -- where jobs are certain to be a hot topic -- will weigh heavily on the Dow.

Individual Dow stocks traded mostly higher today with a few exceptions. Tech staple Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) has plummeted more than 9% after CEO Meg Whitman expressed expectations of continued falling earnings next year at an analyst meeting. Whitman's sentiments certainly won't make HP shareholders smile anytime soon, and her predictions that the company may not experience significant growth until 2015 seem like a harbinger for investor headaches ahead. With competitors such as Apple and Google entrenched in the promising mobile-computing market, Whitman will have a tough time bringing HP back to the top.

Energy giants Chevron (NYSE: CVX) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) have also nosed slightly down as oil futures dipped below $90 a barrel. A rising dollar certainly didn't help oil, but shares of the commodity also fell on news of sluggish service-sector growth in China, no doubt complemented by ongoing fears of Middle East instability. Oil has ignored a positive report from the Energy Information Administration that showed a decline in crude supply, taking shares of Chevon and Exxon down 1.1% and 0.3%, respectively.

In more positive news, Disney, Bank of America, and Disney (NYSE: DIS) have led Dow companies today, with each reaching gains of more than 1%. Bank of America topped a Dow financial sector that rose across the board on the ADP jobs report. Home Depot and Disney likely also rose on the report, given that both companies flourish on increased consumer spending -- a trend certainly helped by job creation.

The Dow's rocky road today is an example of why you need to have the right information to beat the Street for the long-term. For the standout factors you need to know on the Dow's strongest long-term bets, check out The Fool's free special guide to "The 3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need."