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Despite sobering news on the fiscal cliff front, stocks managed to eke out gains for the day, with the Dow (INDEX: ^DJI  ) and the broader S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC  ) up 0.3% and 0.4%, respectively.

Fiscal cliff watch: Proclaiming himself "disappointed" on the back of a phone call with President Obama and a meeting with Tim Geithner, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner didn't mince words in lamenting the absence of any "substantive progress ... in the talks between the White House and the House over the past two weeks," before adding:

There's been no serious discussion of spending cuts so far, and unless there is, there's a real danger of going off the fiscal cliff.

While the market has been singularly focused on the fiscal cliff since the election was decided on November 6, hanging on to any shred of information relating to negotiations between lawmakers, Boehner's statements made no lasting impact on stocks, which were up today. This is a good object lesson for investors: Trying to explain stock returns in terms of a single factor doesn't make sense. Even a trader with perfect foresight about Boehner's declarations would have made the wrong bet today. Furthermore, handicapping the market over short-term periods is a mug's game.

The micro view: Groupon (Nasdaq: GRPN  ) founder and CEO Andrew Mason will get to keep his job after all -- to investors' chagrin, if the stock's performance is any indication. The stock is down 2% after hours on the news that Groupon's board is taking no action after discussing Mason's suitability at the head of the company. Considering the stock popped 12% yesterday on the news that the board would discuss the topic, and that Mason stood ready to resign, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect further losses tomorrow (all the while keeping in mind the object lesson from the previous paragraph!)

The stock's longer-term prospects are not good, either, in my opinion. The long-term viability of the company's business model is a matter of speculation -- intellectual and financial -- and, even if the answer to that question is affirmative, the company has no durable competitive advantage. Paying nearly 24 times the (likely inflated) estimate of next 12 months' earnings for the shares of a business with those attributes isn't investing; it's not even an informed speculation.

I've been generally skeptical of recently floated social networking companies but, if you feel compelled to speculate in this area, my advice is to focus on companies that have a competitive advantage. Click here to request The Motley Fool's premium report for a comprehensive assessment of Facebook's (Nasdaq: FB  ) opportunity and risks, which includes a full year of ongoing coverage.

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Related Tickers

10/24/2016 11:46 AM
FB $133.26 Up +1.19 +0.90%
Facebook CAPS Rating: ***
GRPN $5.20 Up +0.18 +3.49%
Groupon CAPS Rating: *