After a slow start this morning, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) pushed ahead into positive territory on renewed hopes for a fiscal cliff compromise to finish up 107 points or 0.8%. Markets here and in Europe jumped after President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner reasserted their confidence that Washington would come up with a solution for the automatic spending cuts and tax increases. From its low point in the day, the Dow gained 220 points after those remarks, but that increase seems especially fragile, considering the market fell yesterday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the opposite.
Earlier in the morning, new home sales figures disappointed, with just 368,000 new units sold in October, below expectations of 388,000. Still, that number was essentially even with September's results. Also, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book report that economic growth improved in October and early November in every part of the country except the Northeast, which suffered because of the effects of Superstorm Sandy.
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) again led Dow components with a 3% gain today. The stock has been particularly volatile since it reported an $8.8 billion writedown last week on its acquisition of Autonomy. HP execs have since sparred with Autonomy over supposedly fraudulent bookkeeping, and lawsuits have ensued. Despite the PC-maker's gain today, Moody's cut its credit rating on HP to Baa1 from A3, saying it was concerned about competitive pressures and execution challenges.
Elsewhere on the market, special dividends have been all the rage this holiday season as corporations fear 2013 could bring dramatic increases in dividend tax rates. So far, 103 companies have announced a one-time payout this quarter, compared with a recent average of just 31. Today, Costco (Nasdaq: COST ) joined the ranks with a special dividend of $7 and jumped 6.3% on that news and its earnings report. The Movado Group also climbed 10% on a $0.75 payout, and Wal-Mart earlier moved up its quarterly distribution. Others implementing the special dividend strategy include Las Vegas Sands, Wynn Resorts, and Dillard's.
Investors may be pleased with today's triple-digit gain, but it's important to distinguish between event-driven and rumor-driven fluctuations. The market's right to hope for a solution to the fiscal cliff, but the wild swings over mere utterances from Washington bigwigs are starting to look ridiculous. Foolish investors know that playing the market for the long term means your stocks should be capable of weathering economic turmoil like we may see with the cliff. To get more details on one of our favorite stocks, I recommend picking up our new premium ticker report on Costco. The warehouse retailer nearly reached an all-time high today, and it has proven that keeping your employees and customers happy is a great way to create shareholder value. This report goes in-depth on the opportunities and risk facing Costco, and lets you know if it will continue delivering the outstanding results it has in the past. To get your copy now, all you have to do is click right here.