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Following one of the year's biggest multiday gains last week, stocks are broadly lower today on fears emanating out of Europe and continued concern about the impending fiscal cliff. At a little more than two hours into the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) is down by 95 points, or 0.73%.
Record holiday retail sales
Shoppers across the nation hit stores in the annual Black Friday tradition over the long weekend. In an effort to prolong the holiday shopping season, many retailers including Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) and Target (NYSE: TGT ) opened their doors on Thanksgiving evening. While the move sparked controversy and even protests among employees, data released yesterday suggests that the move paid off. According to the National Retail Federation, more than 35 million Americans took advantage of the early openings on Thanksgiving evening itself. On Black Friday, an estimated 89 million shoppers hit the stores compared to 86 million last year. And for the entire weekend, the number increased to 247 million, up from 226 million a year ago.
"From green beans to great deals, millions of Americans found time this Thanksgiving to make the most of retailers' promotions and enjoy a special family holiday," NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said in the press release announcing the survey results. "To keep their customers excited about holiday shopping, retailers will continue to offer attractive promotions through December, and provide strong consumer value with low prices, enhanced mobile and online offerings, and unique product assortment"
And, of course, today is Cyber Monday, where shoppers who have made their way back to work take advantage of analogous sales online. Among other deals, Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN ) homepage is promoting its Kindle Fire for $129 compared to $159 list price, Target shaved 34% off a Westinghouse 46-inch HDTV, and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS ) is giving away a $20 gift card with the purchase of a selection of its Nook ereaders.
Despite the record shopping numbers thus far, shares in many retailers are nevertheless dragging on stock indexes today. Wal-Mart's shares are lower by 0.75% and Target's by 2.16%. Alternatively, shares in both Barnes & Noble and Amazon are up in early trading.
Fiscal cliff and Europe weigh on stocks
While no major economic reports are due out today, macroeconomic issues related to the fiscal cliff and Europe continue to depress equities.
When Congress returns to work on Monday, all eyes will be on whether they can work out a compromise before the end of the year. Earlier this month, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that going over the proverbial cliff would drive the American economy into a recession and push the jobless rate above 9%. And a report released today by the President's Council of Economic Advisors estimated that the typical family could see taxes increase by $2,200 dollars if no action is taken.
In Europe, meanwhile, the continent's finance ministers are continuing to struggle with the Greek bailout situation. Officials began arriving in Brussels for another round of meetings aimed at releasing a desperately needed $57 billion tranche of financial support. According to the Wall Street Journal, a consensus seems to be forming around the move to lower Greece's interest rate but not forgive any of its debts.
Finally, shares in the Dow's newest component, UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH ) , are down nearly 2% in intraday trading after the nation's largest private health insurer reported this morning that it expects 2013 earnings per share of $5.25 to $5.50. The range was notably below the consensus, which had pegged the figure at $5.60 per share.
The Foolish bottom line
With the economy on a path toward recovery, the Internet's hottest retail company, Amazon.com, could very well outpace its competitors going forward. To learn more about the risks and opportunities associated with holding shares in the online retail behemoth, download our new in-depth report on the company by clicking here now.