A Quiet End to the Dow's November

After a tumultuous month from the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) , one in which we've been accustomed to triple-digit swings up or down as the markets react to elections, earnings reports, or empty political talking points about the fiscal cliff, the index is ending November on quiet note. Even with the fiscal cliff rushing toward America like a runaway freight train, the Dow's down just 10 points, or less than a 10th of a percent, as of 2:15 p.m. EST. Stocks are pretty evenly mixed between winners and losers, and quite frankly, it's about time investors had a day to exhale safely. Let's get caught up on today's noteworthy movers.

Economics on the back burner
The Dow's been mostly putting aside macroeconomic news for the day -- and good thing, since it's not good new. Apart from the usual fiscal cliff campaigning from President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, the Commerce Department released consumer spending for October, revealing that the marker dropped for the month for the first time in five months. Between stagnating wages and the effects of Hurricane Sandy in the last few days of October, Americans have had to watch their pocketbooks. With holiday season here, however, I doubt that trend will last long.

Retail seems to agree with me today, since Walmart (NYSE: WMT  ) and Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) are leading the Dow higher with shares gaining 1.2% and 0.9%, respectively. Both retailers are likely still on a high after Black Friday and Cyber Monday's record hauls, and even with government sources pointing out that fiscal cliff fears could curtail holiday shopping this year, these two Dow members probably don't have to worry too much unless the fiscal cliff actually strikes.

In that scenario, however, everyone would have to worry -- particularly the economically reliant industrial sector, which is showing some weakness today. Manufacturing giant Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) ranks among the top Dow laggards with losses of 1% on the day. Despite Caterpillar's CEO meeting with the president and other corporate executives earlier in the week to discuss the cliff, this company likely won't know its fate until a deal (or lack thereof) is hammered together by Congress. Falling off the cliff would be drastic for Caterpillar and other Dow industrial stocks, such as Alcoa (NYSE: AA  )  (which has also seen shares drop today, to the tune of 0.2%).

More laggards
Pharmaceutical giant Merck (NYSE: MRK  ) isn't having much of a day to remember, either. Shares of the big pharma staple are down 0.8% to rank it among the worst-performing Dow members today. Merck withdrew a marketing authorization application in Europe for its bone sarcoma and bone tumor treatment ridaforolimus. An FDA advisory panel didn't recommend the drug for the U.S. earlier in the year, so less-than-stellar expectations have likely kept the stock from falling more.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) has led all Dow stocks lower as the company continues to struggle with the declining PC market and a Windows 8 operating system launch that's not all it was cracked up to be.

For nearly 100 years, Merck's cutting-edge research has led to a number of medical breakthroughs. Today, however, this pharma stalwart is staring down a steep patent cliff and facing generic competition for its top-selling drug. Will Merck crumble under its own weight, or will it continue to pay dividends to investors for another century? To find out if this pharma giant has the stamina to keep its Bunsen burners alight, grab your copy of our brand-new premium research report today. Our senior biotech analyst, Brian Orelli, Ph.D., walks you through both the opportunities and threats facing Merck, and the report comes with a full 12 months of updates. Claim your copy now by clicking here.


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