There’s been speculation for years that a health insurer would join the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and UnitedHealth Group has beaten Aetna to the punch.
UnitedHealth started trading Monday in place of Kraft Foods, which will spin off its U.S. grocery business and change its name to Mondelez International Inc. next week.
Having Aetna on the bellwether list of what is arguably the 30 most important companies in the nation would have given Hartford three companies on the list, after United Technologies Corp. and Travelers, which is based in New York but has by far its largest headcount here.
Aetna is a giant and highly innovative health insurer under CEO Mark Bertolini, but size matters and UnitedHealth gets the prize with its 36 million medical insurance membership, covering 70 million people.
With 4,200 employees in the Hartford area, the addition of UnitedHealth gives the capital city huge influence in the Dow. The company, based in Minnetonka, Minn., issued a press release Sept. 14 when it was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability North America Index and the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for the 14th straight year — but did not mention that on the same day, Dow Jones announced it would join the industrials list.
Fairfield-based General Electric Co., the undefinable conglomerate, is the only original member of the Dow, which debuted with 12 companies on May 26, 1896. GE was off the list from 1901 to 1907.
UTC, then called United Aircraft, joined in 1933 for a year, then came back in 1939 for good, as airlines were on the rise and the war effort was starting to crank up.
Travelers joined in 2009, replacing Citigroup, which had owned Travelers for a few years until 2002.
The health care sector has three other firms, Merck, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, giving far too much weight to drugs.
Food and beverage is left with Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. Probably that’s a good thing if you believe small and local is better for food than big and multinational.
Likewise, there are no health care providers on the Dow, which is a good sign since there’s no social, medical or economic advantage to nationwide hospital systems.
Missing from the index is Apple, the nation’s largest company by market cap and the perhaps company that makes the most waves with its new products. Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco and Intel are all on there.
There’s some debate about whether and how much inclusion in the Dow helps a stock. UNH is up 4 percent since the Sept. 14 announcement, and was down 20 cents to $55.98 Monday, a day when the Dow was barely down.