We all knew it couldn't last forever. Following 10 consecutive days in which the market closed higher -- the longest streak since the 1990s -- the Dow Jones Industrial Average appears positioned to finish lower for the first time this month. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the blue-chip index is down 51 points, or 0.35%.
There was a slew of economic releases on the macroeconomic front today. First, consumer confidence came in worse than expected. The closely watched Thompson Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment fell to 71.8, down from 77.6 in February. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a reading of 78. According to a market strategist quoted by The Wall Street Journal: "The drop in March is certainly out of step with some of the other things that we've been seeing. But [Thursday's] jobless claims number was still low and everything else is doing OK, so I'm not freaking out just yet."
On a slightly more upbeat note, a report by the New York Federal Reserve estimated that growth in the eponymous region's manufacturing sector stayed positive for a second month in a row. Its Empire State manufacturing index came in at 9.2 for the month of March. This was slightly worse than the preceding month, but, as an economist told MarketWatch.com, the reading suggests that the level of manufacturing activity "does seem to be getting better" -- though he went on to note that "it still hasn't got to a point where we would call it strong, firm, or even normal."
Finally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its estimate of inflation for the month of February. The data showed that consumer prices rose by 0.7% last month, equating to the fastest increase since 2009. The primary impetus was energy prices, which climbed by 9% over a one-month time period. On a year-over-year basis, meanwhile, overall inflation came in at 2%. For those worried that this news will encourage the Federal Reserve to ease off the monetary gas pedal, any such concerns are premature, as the central bank has promised to keep interest rates low until annualized inflation exceeds 2.5% or the unemployment rate falls below 6.5%.
In terms of individual stocks, the worst-performing component on the Dow today is far and away JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), the nation's largest bank by assets. After the market closed yesterday, the Federal Reserve released the results of the 2013 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review, or CCAR, the purpose of which is to determine which of the nation's biggest banks will be allowed to increase the amount of capital they can return to shareholders this year.