This Is the Reason the S&P 500 Popped Late in the Day

On a day relatively devoid of economic data and even light on earnings reports, all eyes have turned to the U.S. presidential election tomorrow. The race for president has become increasingly tighter as the campaign has worn on, and it's really anyone's guess who the winner will be at the moment. This uncertainty has led to light volume and choppy trading, which allowed economic optimists to push the broad-based S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC  ) higher late in the trading day by 3.06 points (0.22%) to end at 1,417.26.

If you don't believe that traders are skittish heading into tomorrow's elections, please note that E*TRADE Financial's (Nasdaq: ETFC  ) 4.4% gain was the best performance within the S&P 500 today. E*TRADE is planning to offer $1.3 billion in senior notes in two separate tranches while using the proceeds to pay down more costly debt. Investors seem to be pleased with the offering, although E*TRADE still has a long way yet to go before it's rid of its portfolio of toxic mortgage assets.

Industrial conglomerate Dover (NYSE: DOV  ) also wiggled its way into the best-performers list, rising 4%, after announcing that it'll be repurchasing $1 billion worth of its own shares over the next 12 to 18 months and is planning to divest its non-core operations. Dover's CEO, Robert Livingston, wants the company's focus to remain solely on its five key growth opportunities: "energy, refrigeration and food equipment, communication components, product identification, and fluids." Investors like certainty, and focusing on what Dover's best at appears to be a smart move.

However, electric utilities are having a week to forget since Hurricane Sandy made landfall. The S&P 500's worst-performers list is littered with utility names, including Entergy (NYSE: ETR  ) and Exelon (NYSE: EXC  ) , which shed 5% and 2%, respectively.

In addition to suffering from weak post-Sandy demand and repair costs, Entergy reported its third-quarter earnings results that highlighted a near halving in profits from the prior year because of reduced revenue (partially related to Hurricane Isaac) and rising maintenance costs. Exelon's downdraft was less severe but was aided by a downgrade from research firm Argus to "hold" from "buy." Simply put, utility companies have been trading at a significant premium to other S&P 500 sectors; Hurricane Sandy may wind up bringing some of those averages back into check.

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