The start of earnings season gives investors a rough idea about what kinds of trends they may be seeing in the next few weeks as more companies report quarterly results. Investors were not pleased with the way aluminum giant Alcoa (NYSE:AA) led the season off last evening, and the stock dropped by nearly 5% today in response to the company's tampered forecast for Chinese demand for metal.

The Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES:^DJI) underwent a secular pullback Wednesday, opening below yesterday's close and trending lower throughout the day to close down more than 128 points, or 0.95%, at just under 13,345. Chevron (NYSE:CVX) was the index's second-biggest loser, falling 4.25%. Though the $230 billion integrated oil and gas leader doesn't report third-quarter results until Nov 2, it released an ominous statement today, saying it expects Q3 earnings to be "substantially lower than second quarter 2012." 

The Federal Reserve also today released its Beige Book -- published eight times per year to evaluate the direction of the economy -- but it didn't make much of an impression on the markets. Some moderate improvements in housing and auto sales in September weren't convincing enough to reverse the broader sell-off.

So while 26 Dow components lost value Wednesday, a handful -- four, to be exact -- posted gains, led by Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM).

Wal-Mart, which gained more than 1.7% for the day to lead the Dow, was buoyed by news that the company plans to forge ahead with its focus on smaller stores. The strategy is meant to boost revenues and increase efficiency in a way that its big-box locations may not be able to. Shares of JPMorgan rose nearly 0.9% on the day ahead of Friday's earnings report.

The Dow has cooled off a bit in the past few days, but for the year it's been a winner. It's up more than 9.2% in 2012, with more than two months of trading remaining before we usher in 2013.

John Divine has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. You can follow him on Twitter, @divinebizkid, and on Motley Fool CAPS, @TMFDivine.

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