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Even though investors were given positive U.S. economic data from four different sources today, all it took for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) to quickly move lower where a few words from John Boehner. In a mid-afternoon press release, the House Speaker expressed his concerns that the White House was not taking spending cuts seriously, and seems to be willing to walk our economy off the fiscal cliff.
The index closed the day at 13,170, down 74 points, or 0.56%. And of the 30 stocks that make up the Dow, 25 of them were in the red when the bell rang. This afternoon, I explained why Merck (NYSE: MRK ) , UnitedHealth (NYSE: UNH ) , and Boeing (NYSE: BA) were all lower; click here to read about those companies. Three of today's winners, Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO ) , JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) and American Express (NYSE: AXP ) moved just slightly higher for the day, up 0.05%, 0.02% and 0.09% respectively on very little positive news about each company. But, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) were all able to buck the Dow's losing trend today because of company-specific news.
Why were they higher?
The big winner on the Dow, today, was Caterpillar, which saw its shares rise by 0.47%. The move higher came as a result of the company announcing it would be moving its next quarterly dividend payment to Dec 31, 2012, while maintaining its current $0.52 per share amount. Recently, a number of other companies have also made the decision to move the pay date to fall within the 2012 fiscal year. Many believe that the dividend tax rate will increase from its current 15%, to a higher one in 2013. By moving the date to 2012, the company is trying to save shareholders money.
Another Dow component that moved its dividend from January to December was Wal-Mart. But that's not the reason shares of the retailer ended today up 0.15%; that happened for two reasons. First, the Department of Commerce reported retail sales numbers this morning, which came in at 0.3% growth in November, after a number of -0.3% was reported in October. Most analysts were expecting growth of 0.4%; but, as my Fool colleague Dan Dzombak noted, gas station sales were dramatically affected by Hurricane Sandy and, if you exclude gas stations for both months, the growth would have doubled.
The other reason for Wal-Mart's rise today was due to rumors that the company might be interested in acquiring Turkey's largest retailer, Migros. Wal-Mart would be purchasing the company from BC Partners, a private-equity firm based in London. Migros has 888 stores, and the deal would value the company at $4 billion. Learn more about the deal by clicking here.
If you'd like to learn about two retailers with especially good prospects, we invite you to take a look at The Motley Fool's special free report, The Death of Wal-Mart: The Real Cash Kings Changing the Face of Retail. In it, you'll see how these two cash kings are able to consistently outperform, and how they're planning to ride the waves of retail's changing tide. You can access it by clicking here.