We hear about it everyday. The Dow is up, The Dow is down, but what does it really mean?

Charles Dow (Left) & Edward Jones (Right). Financial prowess aside, these guys had some impressive facial hair

In 1882 Charles Dow and Edwards Jones together with Charles Bergstresser founded what would become one of the largest and most prominent business and financial news firms on the planet - Dow Jones & Company. The name is taken after Charles and Edward's surnames respectively. They would also go on to form The Wall Street Journal in 1889 - which to this day is still one of the leading and most influential financial publications.


In 1884 Charles Dow - who also served as editor of The Wall Street Journal - began recording stock averages. The first which grouped together 9 railroads and two industrial companies was the precursor to the Dow Jones Transportation Average. Charles Dow was grouping together stocks from businesses of similar nature to create an overall average to gauge the performance of the market.

Charles' second index is also his most notable. Known by its many monikers - DJI, Industrial Average, Dow 30, or just The Dow - the Dow Jones Industrial Average, in its modern incarnation, serves as an index that indicates the performance of 30 large publicly owned companies based in the United States during a standard trading session in the stock market. The original Dow Jones Industrial was published on May 26 1896, and consisted of 12 industrials. General Electric is the only of the original 12 to remain on the index, but check out this list of the other 11.

In order to come up with the calculation, Charles Dow used a weighted average - stocks with higher values are given a higher weight in the index. The divisor for the Dow has been adjusted over time to keep the index from being affected by market events, political events, war, and natural disaster. The Dow has maintained its importance and influence over the years because it provides an overview of American economic performance. When you hear people say "the market is up" it is almost always a direct reference to the Dow.
In 1928, at the height of the roaring 20's the Dow increased it's index to 30 in accordance with the changing economic tides. Since then there have been several shifts as stocks have been moved in and out of the index. In 2015 Apple Inc. was added.
Check out a complete list of the current 30 on the Dow Jones Industrial Average - many which aren't even industrial, but they all serve to give a cross section of the American economy and its performance.
CompanyExchangeSymbolIndustryDate AddedNotes
3MNYSEMMMConglomerate1976-08-09as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing
American ExpressNYSEAXPConsumer finance1982-08-30
AppleNASDAQAAPLConsumer electronics2015-03-19
BoeingNYSEBAAerospace and defense1987-03-12
CaterpillarNYSECATConstruction and mining equipment1991-05-06
ChevronNYSECVXOil & gas2008-02-19also 1930-07-18 to 1999-11-01
Cisco SystemsNASDAQCSCOComputer networking2009-06-08
Coca-ColaNYSEKOBeverages1987-03-12also 1932-05-26 to 1935-11-20
DuPontNYSEDDChemical industry1935-11-20also 1924-01-22 to 1925-08-31
ExxonMobilNYSEXOMOil & gas1928-10-01as Standard Oil of New Jersey
General ElectricNYSEGEConglomerate1907-11-07also 1896-05-26 to 1898-10 and 1899-04-21 to 1901-04-01
Goldman SachsNYSEGSBanking, Financial services2013-09-20
The Home DepotNYSEHDHome improvement retailer1999-11-01
IBMNYSEIBMComputers and technology1979-06-29also 1932-05-26 to 1939-03-04
IntelNASDAQINTCSemiconductors1999-11-01
Johnson & JohnsonNYSEJNJPharmaceuticals1997-03-17
JPMorgan ChaseNYSEJPMBanking1991-05-06
McDonald'sNYSEMCDFast food1985-10-30
MerckNYSEMRKPharmaceuticals1979-06-29
MicrosoftNASDAQMSFTSoftware1999-11-01
NikeNYSENKEApparel2013-09-20
PfizerNYSEPFEPharmaceuticals2004-04-08
Procter & GambleNYSEPGConsumer goods1932-05-26
TravelersNYSETRVInsurance2009-06-08
UnitedHealth GroupNYSEUNHManaged health care2012-09-24
United TechnologiesNYSEUTXConglomerate1939-03-14as United Aircraft
VerizonNYSEVZTelecommunication2004-04-08
VisaNYSEVConsumer banking2013-09-20
Wal-MartNYSEWMTRetail1997-03-17
Walt DisneyNYSEDISBroadcasting and entertainment1991-05-06
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The Federal Reserve sets the guardrails for the federal funds rate, and through that helps control the money supply for the nation.

When you take out a loan for a car, charge something to your credit card, or get a personal line of credit, there is going to be an interest rate that applies to your loan.

A lot of different factors go into what you will be charged, including your own personal credit score. But even those with flawless credit still see a minimum charge that they can't get around. That all goes back to the Federal Funds Rate.

One thing consumers rarely realize is that all of our banks are lending money to each other every night. Banks are legally required to maintain a certain percentage of their deposits in non-interest-bearing accounts at the Federal Reserve to ensure they have enough money to cover any withdrawals that may unexpectedly come up. However, deposits can fluctuate and it's very common for some banks to exceed the requirement on certain days while some fall short. In cases like this, banks actually lend each other money to ensure they meet the minimum balance. It's a bit hard to imagine these multibillion-dollar financial institutions needing to borrow money to tide them over for a bit, but it happens every single night at the Federal Reserve. It's also a nice deal for those with balances above the reserve balance requirement to earn a bit of money with cash that would normally just be sitting there.

The Federal Reserve The Federal Reserve


The exact interest rate the banks will charge each other is a matter of negotiation between them, but the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) (the arm of the Federal Reserve that sets monetary policy) meets eight times a year to set a target rate. They evaluate a multitude of economic indicators including unemployment, inflation, and consumer confidence to decide the best rate to keep the country in business. The weighted average of all interest rates across these interbank loans is the effective federal funds rate.

This rate has a huge impact on the economy overall as well as your personal finances. The federal funds rate is essentially the cheapest money available to a bank and that feeds into all of the other loans they make. Banks will add a slight upcharge to the rate set by the Fed to determine what is the lowest interest that they will announce for their most creditworthy customers, also known as the prime rate. If you have a variable interest rate loan (very common with credit cards and some student loans), it's likely that the interest rate you pay is a set percentage on top of that prime rate that your lender is paying. That's why in times of low interest rates (it was set at 0% during the Great Recession), a lot of borrowers should go for fixed interest rate loans that won't increase. However, if the federal funds rate was relatively high (it went up to 20% in the early 1980's), a variable interest rate loan may be a better decision as you would be charged less interest should the rate drop without the need to refinance.

The federal funds rate also has a major impact on your investment portfolio. The stock market reacts very strongly to any changes in interest rates from the Federal Reserve, as a lower rate makes it cheaper for companies to borrow and reinvest while a higher rate may restrict capital and slow short-term growth. If you have a significant portion of your investments in equities, a small change in the federal funds rate can have a large impact on your net worth.

Getty Images/Maria Stavreva

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