It looks like the New Year's celebrations are finally over, at least for the stock market. Although private sector payroll numbers came in well above expectations and unemployment claims dropped, news from Europe again took center stage as France found demand for a government bond offering -- albeit at slightly higher rates. A bit before 12:30 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) was down 45 points to 12,374, while the S&P 500 was down 2 points at 1,275.
Going against the grain in early trading was Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , rising more than 5%. Despite Europe's banking woes, B of A got a positive recommendation from analysts at Citigroup. The research report said that even though B of A could require as much as $32 billion in additional funds to resolve mortgage losses over and above the billions it has already written off or set aside, the stock remains a buy.
Merck (NYSE: MRK ) also posted healthy gains in a down market. CEO Ken Frazier acknowledged some drug development challenges in 2011 but said that he believes that new drugs will be important to the company's success in 2012. Frazier also said that Merck is looking to make deals to acquire other drugs that are in late stages of clinical testing.
On the downside, Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) led the losers with a drop of about 1.5%. Oil prices fell slightly but remained well above the $100 level. With rhetoric flying from Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez about fellow Dow energy stock ExxonMobil's (NYSE: XOM ) $900 million arbitration award from the International Chamber of Commerce, it's increasingly clear that big oil companies like Chevron and Exxon face an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment as well as the economic issues they've dealt with for years.
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