Unicorns and Fairies, or Why Stocks Are Flat Today

Talk about a boring day. At roughly halfway through the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is effectively flat. To be more precise, although this will invariably change by the time you read this, the blue chip index is up 6 points, or 0.05%.

Assuming the Dow doesn't rally by 80 points or so this afternoon, today will cap the third month this year that the index has receded.

Why the Dow's stuck today
Today's inactivity comes amid a flurry of, shall I say, uninspiring economic reports. First, data released from the Commerce Department this morning estimates that consumer spending fell in October. Personal consumption expenditures fell by 0.02% from the prior month. Economists had predicted the figure would stay even.

Part of the slowdown was due to the deleterious effects of Hurricane Sandy. At the end of last month, analysts had predicted that the storm would cause $10 billion to $30 billion in lost business activity, which could subtract up to 0.6 percentage points from domestic output growth in the fourth quarter.

Second, it was announced today that Germany's parliament has approved "with an overwhelming majority" a new aid package to Greece. Earlier this month, European financial ministers had met multiple times to decide whether or not to release an additional tranche of financial support to the beleaguered country. Had the vote failed, it's widely assumed that a Greek default would have occurred.

In slightly more entertaining fashion, the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, called on top officials to leave behind the "fairy world" in which problems were allowed to grow. I have to plead ignorance here, as I've never heard of said fairy world nor do I know where it is. That being said, however, if that's where Europe's problems originated, then I would have to second Draghi's recommendation. I would also have to second it if unicorns live there, as they're expensive to feed and would certainly only worsen the Continent's economic woes.

Finally, and speaking of unicorns and the fairy world, lawmakers here at home continue their self-interested political banter over the so-called fiscal cliff. Following bipartisan budget talks on Thursday, in which President Obama offered an opening bid calling for $1.6 billion in new revenue, among other things, House Speaker John Boehner said that the White House "has to get serious." Serious indeed: The two parties have until January to sort out their differences before careening over the cliff and causing needless damage to the U.S. economy.

Individual movers and shakers
In terms of individual company news, shares of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) are leading the Dow higher today, up 1.27%, followed closely by Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) . Last week marked the official start of the holiday shopping season, as people flocked to the malls to participate in the annual Black Friday ritual. For its part, Wal-Mart opened at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving day in an effort to lengthen the season and steal customers from its competitors -- namely, Target (NYSE: TGT  ) , which opened an hour later.

And with respect to Intel, shares in the chip maker are down nearly 33% since the beginning of May. There's now a growing chorus of analysts, at least here at The Motley Fool, who are claiming it's time to take advantage of this dip, which is purportedly caused by a slackening in demand for personal computers. Full disclosure: I bought shares in the company earlier this week. When asked by a colleague why, my response was threefold: It's just too darn cheap, it pays a 4.5% dividend yield, and there's "bound to be a lot of computin' going on in the future." To read more sophisticated analyses, check out the articles here and here.

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