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The day after Thanksgiving isn't typically considered a big day in the stock markets, as many traders take a four-day weekend in observance of the holiday. But despite low volumes and a shortened trading session, stocks rose sharply today. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) finished the day up 173 points, or 1.35%, breaching the 13,000 level.
To say that it's been an eventful week for HP would be an understatement. On Tuesday, shares in the personal-computer and printer maker were down sharply after the company reported its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings. An $8.8 billion goodwill writedown was largely to blame for the disappointing results.
In the wake of these results, accusations have been flying among HP's current and former executives, its accounting firm, and Autonomy, the U.K. software company HP acquired in 2011 on the basis of allegedly manipulated books. HP's CEO Meg Whitman said an internal investigation of the acquisition revealed "serious accounting improprieties" and "outright misrepresentations."
In response, HP's CEO at the time of the acquisition, Leo Apotheker, defended his role in a letter to The Wall Street Journal saying (emphasis added): "The alleged improprieties apparently came to light only after an internal whistleblower raised the issue in the spring, well after my departure."
For his part, Autonomy's founder and former CEO, Michael Lynch, retorted: "We completely reject the allegations. ... I can't understand how you can write down $9 billion of value and say something you didn't notice when you did due diligence with 300 people."
And finally, Deloitte Touche, the prestigious accounting firm that gave Autonomy a clean bill of health in the lead-up to the acquisition, is now in the crosshairs. While HP hasn't leveled accusations against the firm, the SEC has reportedly launched an investigation into the deal, and a former SEC chief accountant told That Wall Street Journal that "it's tough to say something isn't going on with Deloitte."
Retail stocks are also up
Beyond the tech sector, shares in retailers like Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) , Target (NYSE: TGT ) , and Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) all rose today. In an effort to extend the shopping season, many of the country's largest retailers opened their doors last night to shoppers looking for deals. Wal-Mart opened at 8 p.m., and Target flung open its doors at 9 p.m. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Despite an outcry from traditionalists and some employees, the gambit appeared to be paying off with lines around stores at many locations."
Many analysts are expecting a better holiday shopping season this year than last. The housing recovery now appears to be well underway, improving the balance sheets of everyday consumers, and consumer confidence is responding in kind. The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index showed that the share of households saying the economy will improve rose to 37% from a historic low last year.
More specifically, the National Retail Federation estimated that holiday sales will increase by 4.1% this year and that 147 million shoppers are expected to hit the stores over the upcoming weekend.
The Foolish bottom line
Given an impending resolution to the fiscal cliff, there's reason to believe that stocks could end the year higher. To discover whether Microsoft is a company that will benefit from this, as well as other trends in the tech space, check out our new in-depth report on the software maker. Among other things, it details the risks and opportunities associated with owning its stock. To access this report instantly, simply click here now.