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Why the Dow Can't Make Up Its Mind Today

Forget the holiday season; we're in the thick of fiscal-cliff season. The economy's biggest talking point continues to dominate the markets as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) edges up just four points as of 2:15 p.m. EST, having wobbled between gains and losses for most of the day. Most stocks are flat, with just a few of the Dow's components moving by more than 1%. Tech's having a good day, but otherwise investors continue to nervously watch for developments out of Capitol Hill.

Fiscal-cliff battle royale
There's been little talk of real solutions to the fiscal cliff, but the partisan politics rage on. Congressional Republicans submitted a proposal to the White House on Monday with a plan to slash $2.2 trillion over the next decade, centered on spending cuts. The plan included tax reform but no additional tax hikes, causing the White House to rebuff the plan. In the aftermath, both President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner came out with statements today that doubled down on the negative sentiment out of Washington.

It's still slow going for the fiscal-cliff talks, then. While Washington is deadlocked, the tech sector has actually posted a good day on the Dow. PC maker Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) leads all Dow stocks so far, gaining 3.9%, while chip maker Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) is up 2%. Both companies have been hit by the falling PC market, and the recent woes of each are likely spurring some investors to buy on the dips. However, given HP's struggles with massive writedowns, the ongoing fraud accusations leveled at acquisition Autonomy, and the few proven ways to carve a niche in the mobile game, it's hard to recommend HP to any long-term investor.

Seeing red
Two leading industrial giants are pushing into the red, however, after yesterday's Purchasing Managers' Index report from the Institute of Supply Management showed a contraction in the manufacturing industry for November. Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) and Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) have both recorded modest losses on the day, with shares down 0.6% and 0.2%, respectively.

Telecoms cap off the Dow's laggards. AT&T (NYSE: T  ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ  ) stand with the Dow losers, down 0.7% each. Consulting firm Chetan Sharma produced a report that showed a decline in U.S. consumer text messages for the first time ever in the third quarter. Texts represent significant revenue for wireless carriers like Verizon and AT&T, and any future trend of consumers moving away from texts and toward Internet-based chat apps could dent their bottom lines.

The market's been sluggish today, but Intel has had a good day. When it comes to dominating markets, it doesn't get much better than Intel's position in the PC microprocessor arena. However, that market is maturing, and Intel will find itself in a precarious long-term situation if it doesn't find new avenues for growth. In this premium research report on Intel, our analyst runs through all of the key topics investors should understand about the chip giant. Better yet, you'll continue to receive updates for an entire year. Click here now to learn more.

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