Dow Plays Another Round Of Fiscal Cliff Plinko

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI  ) bounced up and down today, as investors attempted to interpret the political squabbling over the fiscal cliff. In the end, the blue chips finished the day up 36 points, or 0.3%. A day after House Speaker John Boehner's comments lifted stocks, he said that today's talks with Democrats had yielded no substantive progress, and criticized the opposing party for ignoring spending cuts in their discussions. Stocks dipped into negative territory on the remarks, but recovered after a more reassuring statement from Harry Reid. Raising the stakes in Washington is the approach of the debt ceiling, once again, which Congress has refused to deal with.

In other macroeconomic news, third-quarter GDP was revised upward from 2%, to 2.7%, and initial unemployment claims came in slightly lower than expected, at 393,000. The weekly figure has eased down after inflated levels over the last month due to Superstorm Sandy. Growth in pending home sales was also much better than expected, jumping 5.2% on predictions of just 1%. Finally, retailers reported disappointing same-store sales for last month, with nearly all those reporting coming in below expectations. Industrywide, comps were up just 1.6%, while analysts had estimated 3.3% growth.

UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH  ) was the Dow's biggest winner, gaining 3.1% on no major news. The insurer had earlier this week said its growth next year would be slower than previously expected. Today's rally simply could have been a response to the earlier pullback for the otherwise solid stock.

Leading the way downward was Intel (Nasdaq: INTC  ) , which fell 2.8%, as two analysts lowered their earnings estimates for the chip maker. Negativity has surrounded Intel recently, as sales have slowed, and it's left chasing the leaders in mobile. The analysts expressed concerns about rising inventory levels and cuts in guidance.

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) shares also shaved off 1.5%, after pricing its Surface Pro Tablet at a whopping $899. An NPD report also came out showing that sales of Windows-powered PCs fell 21% in the month, depressing hopes that the Windows 8 operating system would spark a revival in computer sales.

Other newsmakers included Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) , which raised its dividend by 25%, to $0.75 a share, to give it a modest 1.5% dividend yield. Shares rose 1.1% on the day.

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