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It's time to close the book on the third quarter, and what a quarter it was. Thanks to the Federal Reserve's new quantitative easing program, stocks saw their best third quarter in two years. QE3 rocked Q3.
As for today, the market started off on the wrong foot before paring losses toward the end of the session. Rumors swirled that Moody's is preparing to cut Spanish debt to junk status, further exacerbating that country's high borrowing costs. However, a stress test revealed that the Spanish banking institutions, which include Banco Santander (NYSE: SAN ) , while undercapitalized by roughly $76 billion, were still within a comfortable limit. Santander exceeded the minimum capital requirements but still traded off 3%. Don't look now, but Santander is sitting near 52-week highs after gaining 20% for the quarter! However, it's still about half of where it was three years ago, so if the ever-present danger of a Spanish collapse doesn't threaten you, it could be an interesting choice for risk-loving investors on pullbacks.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) finished the day down 49 points, or 0.4%, giving back some of yesterday's gains while outperforming the two other major indexes. The S&P 500 closed down just under 0.5%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq posted a 0.7% decrease.
Despite its better performance, there weren't a whole lot of winners on the Dow, as only five of the 30 components finished the day with gains. Of those, Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO ) was our big winner, adding 1.6% after Morgan Stanley upped EPS estimates for the networking titan. Cisco has been known to sandbag estimates, so bullishness by the Street takes the place of accuracy for Cisco's conservative management team.
Beyond Cisco, Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) climbed 0.8% as investors continue to be bullish on the homebuilding recovery. With only three months left in the year, Home Depot shares have climbed nearly 50% already in 2012. Shares have moved at a nearly 45-degree angle since this time last year, leaving some to wonder whether the stock hasn't gotten a little ahead of itself.
And finally, IBM (NYSE: IBM ) climbed 0.75% as it prepares to launch its "Project Sparta" data management and analysis system. As fellow Fool Dan Caplinger notes, "Given the huge volumes of data available to businesses around the world, finding ways to make that data valuable has huge potential, and IBM is smart to get in on the trend as quickly as possible before Oracle and other rivals can get a big head start."
Now here's a thought to ponder over the weekend. Since 1956, every year an incumbent president has been re-elected, the markets have gone up in the fourth quarter. If that trend holds, President Obama's widening lead over Mitt Romney could provide a short-term boost to your portfolio. However, our country faces real challenges over the next couple of years, starting with the fiscal cliff, and investors need to be prepared.
That's why the 2012 elections loom large, and there are stocks whose future is tied to whether Romney or Obama is in the White House. The Motley Fool's new special free report "These Stocks Could Skyrocket After the 2012 Presidential Election" highlights unique ways to profit from the election -- if you buy the right stocks before the next president's term begins. Download it for free by clicking here.