How the Dow Broke Its Losing Streak

After a week of worrying, all it took to make investors happier was to see some sign that politicians in Washington just might be able to reach the necessary compromises to resolve the imminent fiscal cliff before the end of the year. With the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI  ) finishing the day up 46 points, the market didn't come close to earning back all of its losses for the week, but it was, nevertheless, a step in the right direction, and broke a four-day losing streak for the average. The broader market outperformed the Dow slightly, with the small-cap Russell 2000 actually gaining almost a full percentage point.

Strength in the Dow came from a wide cast of characters. On one hand, gains of 1.4% in Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) made plenty of sense, as the home-improvement retailer should see tailwinds for some time from the ongoing impact of repairs after Hurricane Sandy hit densely-populated parts of the East Coast.

But Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) actually topped the gainers list, rising 1.6%. For the aluminum giant, which has long struggled under adverse conditions in the global economy generally, and the aluminum market specifically, the hope is that a resolution to fiscal concerns will get the economy back on track, boosting its prospects, and pointing to a possible acceleration in growth. Whether that ambitious plan comes to fruition remains to be seen but, with the shares already beaten down, even some hope is enough to push shares slightly higher.

UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH  ) and American Express (NYSE: AXP  ) both picked up about a percent and a quarter on the day. For UnitedHealth, news that the Department of Health and Human Services gave states an extra month to submit plans for their own insurance exchanges was positive. Analysts believe that UnitedHealth would prefer state-run exchanges rather than ones run by the federal government, but many governors, who are angry at the Affordable Care Act, have said that they won't create exchanges. Meanwhile, at American Express, charge-off and delinquency rates stayed stable from September to October, but remained well below what most rival financial institutions were seeing with their card businesses.

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