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While the market opened relatively flat today, it has since staged an impressive rally. At roughly halfway through the trading day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) is up nearly 80 points, or 0.62%. However, while most stocks are pivoting about the middle, two have separated themselves from the pack on both the upper and lower end.
Home Depot heads higher
Shares of Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) are leading the blue chip index higher. Earlier today, the home improvement retailer released third-quarter earnings that beat bottom-line expectations. Domestic same-store sales increased by 4.3% for the quarter, topping the consensus estimate of 3%.
Like its competitor Lowe's (NYSE: LOW ) , which reports earnings on Monday, the company has benefited tremendously from the growing strength of the housing market. Recently, both housing construction and home prices have risen, leading some analysts to believe that the worst of the housing crisis is now behind us. According to Home Depot's CEO: "Our third-quarter results were better than we expected and reflected, in part, what we believe is the start of the path toward the healing of the housing market."
On the back of this, and bucking the wider trend among blue chip companies, Home Depot raised its full-year earnings outlook. It now expects to earn an adjusted $3.03 per share compared to its previous estimate of $2.95. In addition, it believes its top line will grow by 5.2% over 2011 -- the company had previously forecast top-line growth of 4.6%.
Microsoft heads lower
The worst-performing stock on the Dow, alternatively, is Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . The company announced today that the president of its Windows division, Steven Sinofsky, will be leaving the software maker. Sinofsky had led Microsoft's development of its last two operating systems.
The move is particularly notable given its timing. Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows 8, debuted but two weeks ago. This has led some to question the pivotal success of the newest software, which represents a dramatic, more tablet-friendly, departure from its point-and-click model that has dominated the personal computer market for so many years. Last month, for example, the CEO at Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) was overheard at a party saying that the new software package wasn't ready for release.
Sinofsky's departure is also notable because it follows a similar move at Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . At the end of last month, the head of Apple's operating system, Scott Forstall, was also shown the door after a number of missteps related to its most recent upgrade.
According to my colleague Evan Niu: "Within the past year, Apple has released two key services that it billed as game-changers that then subsequently flopped: Siri and Maps. It was Forstall's call to acquire Siri back in 2010, and while the in-house Maps app has been in development for years, dating back to Jobs' days, its premature release likely tied back to Forstall."
In other news...
Meanwhile, Bank of America's (NYSE: BAC ) CEO Brian Moynihan has added his name to a growing list of corporate executives that are calling on Congress to address the so-called fiscal cliff sooner rather than later. Speaking at an investors conference in New York City, Moynihan noted, "The impacts of the fiscal cliff are already being felt. Simply put, our clients tell us they need more clarity before they can invest."
Moynihan's comments follow similar ones made by his colleague Jamie Dimon at JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) . While Dimon has noted that the economy is on the mend, and the housing market in particular, he told CNBC, "I've spoken to CEOs who say, you know, absolutely, we are making decisions to protect ourselves from the 'fiscal cliff' and those are like investment decisions and hiring decisions."
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