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Stocks Headed for Fifth Consecutive Decline

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So much for all those promises last week that a resolution to the election would spark a rally in the stock market. No sooner had the election ended then renewed concern over the fiscal cliff reemerged. As my colleague Dan Caplinger noted earlier today: "It's always a bad sign when the markets are relying on politicians in order to turn around a long series of declines."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) has now closed lower every day this week and is on track to do so again today. At roughly halfway through the trading session, the blue chip index is lower by 36 points, or 0.32%.

On the corporate front, shares of Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) are getting hammered, down 8% in intraday trading, after the personal-computer maker reported that its third-quarter earnings fell by nearly 50% compared to the same quarter in 2011, and lowered its guidance for sales in the current quarter. Shares in Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) followed suit given its analogous exposure to the ailing personal-computer market.

It was also reported today that BP (NYSE: BP  ) will plead guilty to criminal charges related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 workers and damaged the region's fishing and tourism trades. Under the terms of the agreement, the oil giant will pay a record $4.5 billion fine, the biggest ever imposed by the Justice Department, according to The Wall Street Journal. Notably, the company still faces civil liability for the disaster, which could end up being even more costly.

JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) is expected to receive a cease-and-desist order from one of its primary regulators, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. The order purportedly relates to a lack of sufficient internal controls guarding against money laundering. Over the past year, Standard Chartered and HSBC Holdings have come under scrutiny for this same thing. Earlier this month, in fact, HSBC said that it expects to face a penalty of at least $1.5 billion for allegedly laundering money from places like Mexico and Iran. It expects to face criminal charges as well.

And last but certainly not least, a moment of silence is in order. Hostess Brands, the maker of Twinkies and other iconic brands, said today that it will close its plants and fire the vast majority of its 18,500-plus workforce in response to a strike from its second-largest union. According to the company's chief executive officer: "We deeply regret the necessity of today's decision, but we don't have the financial resources to weather an extended nationwide strike."

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