For those who scrutinize the market's every move, the script looks eerily familiar: Talking heads talk about the fiscal cliff, and stocks go up or down accordingly. Today, all that talking pretty much cancelled itself out, as the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI ) rose just four points. Given that no one realistically expects any resolution to come before at least another few weeks go by, it's surprising that traders are working so hard to try to get an edge on the ongoing saga, especially as bigger events like Germany's backing of a Greek bailout would have likely pushed stocks much higher otherwise.
The Dow had plenty of gainers with substantial moves, though. Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) moved higher by 1.7%, as most analysts point to continuing momentum from positive holiday shopping results. A major fire in a Bangladeshi garment factory killed more than 100 people a week ago, and with the factory having made clothes for Wal-Mart, as well as Sears Holdings (Nasdaq: SHLD ) and Disney, retailers are having to address the fallout from the situation, as protestors question whether inexpensive goods come at the expense of dangerous labor practices abroad.
Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) also rose, gaining 1.3% and closing at yet another decade-long high. As long as the economy keeps growing and housing keeps rebounding, you can likely expect the home-improvement retailer's stock to rise. As the stock's price approaches 20 times fiscal 2014 estimates of $3.47 per share, however, it's going to get increasingly difficult to justify Home Depot's further gains, as the nearly $100 billion market-cap company starts to run up against the limits of its relatively fast growth.
Finally, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ ) gained three-quarters of a percent. The company had two pieces of good news today: it got $1.1 million in punitive damages reversed in a case involving the antibiotic Levaquin, and it named CEO Alex Gorsky to be chairman of the board as well. Dual board/executive structures can simplify leadership, although some believe that it leads to less independent board oversight and the potential for governance problems. J&J certainly needs to move forward with initiatives to restore its reputation after years of painful recalls and other negatives, and it's clear that it's going all-in on Gorsky to be the person to do the job.
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One reason Wal-Mart has made investors happy lately is that it moved its next dividend payment into 2012 to avoid tax impacts of the fiscal cliff. If dividends are an important part of your basis for buying stocks, let me suggest that you read the Fool's popular special report: "The 3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need." It's absolutely free, so just click here and get your copy today.