Dow Slips, Led Lower by Merck Stock

Men gasped. Women screamed. Babies wailed -- as they usually do. What could possibly have been the cause of such horror and bewilderment? It was 4:00 p.m. ET on Monday, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was not higher than it was six and a half hours earlier. In fact, it was 12 points, or 0.1%, lower than its opening levels, closing at 15,335. That day was today, and the blue chip index's largest decliner was Merck's stock.

Of course, today's slip isn't really a big deal. But in a market that's become accustomed to all-time highs day in and day out, Monday's minuscule decline got the financial media in a small frenzy. With no big economic developments today, Wall Street seized on the words of Federal Reserve officials who aren't gung-ho about the $85 billion monthly stimulus.

Aluminum giant Alcoa , posting 1.7% gains, ended Monday as the Dow's top gainer. The fact that basic materials was the second best performing sector of the day, combined with merely a lack of bad news from China, helped buoy the stock. It was a welcome reprieve for Alcoa investors who've seen gains just under 1% in 2013.

American Express , tacking on 1.5%, also finished as a Dow standout. There was nothing material driving it higher Monday, but the stock's risen more than 6% in the past week. Last week's consumer confidence reading -- which came in at highs not seen since mid-2007 -- may mean consumers will start to spend more freely.

While there's no official reading on the preferences of consumers' taste buds to point to, there's no denying that soda remains popular. It's so popular, in fact, that it may be Coca-Cola's main problem: How can growth continue with such a ubiquitous product? One answer is pricing power, which Coke already wields quite well. The stock slipped 1.4% today.

Lastly, Merck stock stumbled 1.7% today; shareholders were put off by the FDA's commentary on Merck's new sleep aid. It turns out clumsy operation of heavy machinery and suicidal thoughts are a few side effects regulators tend to frown upon. An expert panel has yet to weigh in, which leaves some room for investor optimism.

Can Merck beat the patent cliff?
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