After Two Steps Back, the Dow Takes One Step Forward Today


Over the past two day the markets slid into the red because of comments investors found in the Federal Reserve's January minutes. Today, however, a Federal Reserve member's comments are sending the major indexes higher. St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told CNBC's Squawk Box hosts this morning that the Fed remains committed to its current quantitative-easing program, and while the committee has discussed where the program is headed, it plans to keep Fed policy very easy for a long time.

With that news, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is riding high again today: As of 12:55 p.m. EST, the index is up 113 points, or 0.82%. The Dow now sits at 13,994, and only five of its 30 components are down today.

So who's down and why?
Shares of Pfizer and UnitedHealth are dropping today, down 0.4% and 0.9%, respectively. Both companies are expected to take a profit hit in 2014 because of the proposed Medicare rates for next year which the government has just recently released. Medicare Part D, which covers prescription drugs, dropped 4% last year, and officials cut the 2014 numbers by roughly the same amount. The main reason for the 4% drop is that a number of extremely popular drugs have fallen off patent protection, allowing the generic manufacturers to sell blockbuster drugs at a cheaper price. This will likely continue to be an issue for the big pharmaceutical companies moving forward.

Aside from fears that profits may fall in the future, UnitedHealth may be trading lower because of a pending court case in which the insurance company has been accused of improperly supervising a Las Vegas doctor who gave a number of patients hepatitis C. UnitedHealth denies blame, claiming that the doctor, a man named Dipak Desai, cared more about money than the safety and health of those he was treating. The opposing argument is that UnitedHealth knew of the doctors "substandard" medical practices and did nothing to stop his behavior.

After yesterday's 1.5% gain, shares of Wal-Mart are retreating a little today. The company announced earnings for the fourth quarter that saw profit grow by 8.6% and sales increase by 3.9%. While these numbers were good (not great), the company was rather dismal about its future expectations yesterday. Today, investors may be recalling a leaked internal email discussing poor February sales numbers and taking a closer look at what Wal-Mart expects during the coming quarter. Analysts had estimated earnings of $1.18 per share, but executives are only expecting $1.11 to $1.16 per share.

Learn more about UnitedHealth
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Fool contributor Matt Thalman has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow Matt on Twitter @mthalman5513. The Motley Fool recommends UnitedHealth Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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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