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Following yesterday's triple-digit gains on the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) , the market has settled into a more restrained pattern today following continued anxiety over the fiscal cliff and a drop in new jobless claims last week.
Lawmakers in Washington have recently ratcheted up the public debate on the fiscal cliff, as the January deadline gets ever closer. In an interview on Wednesday, the Secretary of the Treasury, Timothy Geithner, told CNBC that the Obama administration is "absolutely" prepared to go over the proverbial cliff if the Republicans aren't willing to raise tax rates on the highest-earning Americans. According to Geithner: "The size of the problem in some sense is so large it can't be solved without rates going up."
Meanwhile, Republican House Speaker John Boehner is calling on the President to respond to the Republicans' proposal, which includes $800 billion worth of revenue increases deriving principally from the elimination or scaling back of certain tax deductions. Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, Speaker Boehner noted: "There are ways to limit deductions, close loopholes and have [rich] people pay more -- more of their money to the federal government without raising tax rates, which we believe will harm our economy."
While politicians appear to be using the debate principally as an opportunity to satisfy their narcissistic tendencies to stand in front of cameras, the reality is that it's beginning to weigh on the economy. According to Brian Moynihan, the CEO of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , the uncertainty surrounding the whole affair has already driven down business investment in 2013 and, if it continues beyond the end of the year, could very well have the same impact on 2014.
On a slightly more uplifting front, data released today estimates that jobless claims fell last week. According to the Labor Department, the number of applicants for unemployment benefits decreased by 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 370,000 for the week ended Dec. 1. This was better than the 375,000 claims that economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had expected.
The real test comes tomorrow, when the government releases job figures for the month of November. Earlier this week, the payroll processing firm Automatic Data Processing estimated that private companies added fewer workers in November than in the previous month, thanks, in large part, to the impact of Superstorm Sandy. For the report tomorrow, economists expect that the economy added just 80,000 jobs but that the unemployment rate will remain at 7.9%.
Finally, the last bit of macroeconomic news influencing the markets today is news that the European Central Bank will leave interest rates where they are after reducing its expectations for economic growth next year. The bank is now forecasting a growth rate range of negative 0.9% to positive 0.3%. It had previously targeted a range of negative 0.4% to positive 1.4%. According to Mario Draghi, the ECB president: "Over the shorter term, weak activity is expected to extend into next year, reflecting the adverse impact on domestic expenditure of weak consumer and investor sentiment and subdued foreign demand"
With respect to individual company news, shares of Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) are higher today after declining yesterday in response to a downbeat research report. Market research company IDC had said that it expects Apple's market share of tablets to fall below 50% by 2016 due to heightened competition from the likes of Microsoft, Amazon.com, and Google, all of which have either released or updated tablets in the lead-up to the holidays. Today's movements come on the back of a wide-ranging interview of Apple's new CEO, Tim Cook, who took over last year. To read the interview, click here.
Also in the tech space, shares of Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) are leading the Dow higher, up 1.76% in midmorning trading. The chip maker has been struggling lately due to lagging demand for personal computers. However, it was recently upgraded by a handful of research firms. At its current price, moreover, many analysts here at The Motley Fool think it provides an attractive opportunity. To read one Fool's take, click here.
Want to learn more about Apple?
There's no doubt that Apple is at the center of technology's largest revolution ever, and that longtime shareholders have been handsomely rewarded with over 1,000% gains. However, there is a debate raging as to whether Apple remains a buy. The Motley Fool's senior technology analyst and managing bureau chief, Eric Bleeker, is prepared to fill you in on both reasons to buy and reasons to sell Apple, and what opportunities are left for the company (and more important, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.