Despite improving employment numbers, yesterday's news that the Fed will continue injecting money into the economy, and higher November retail sales, the markets moved lower today on government inaction. Worries that a fiscal cliff deal may not be struck before the January deadline increase by the day. No progress was made today, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) accordingly fell 74 points, or 0.56%, to close at 13,170.
Jobless claims fell by nearly 30,000 -- more than economists expected -- to 343,000 for the first week in December. Meanwhile, domestic retail sales picked up 0.3% in November. And yet, the bottom line is that the entire economy hinges on a Congress with 18% approval ratings coming to an agreement with the same president in charge during last year's "debt ceiling" fiasco.
Fear was, appropriately, the dominant emotion of the day, as 25 of the 30 Dow components dropped, and none moreso than Merck (NYSE: MRK ) , which fell about 2% on fiscal cliff-related news. The company's CEO said yesterday that if a fiscal cliff solution involved capping drug prices, drug innovation and development would be impaired for the entire industry.
Meanwhile, Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) was the Dow's top gainer, adding about 0.5%, after the company announced it would be accelerating dividend payments into 2012 in order to avoid potential tax consequences from a fiscal cliff scenario. The company's first-quarter dividend will now be paid Dec. 31.
Elsewhere, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) shares took a 1.7% haircut after allowing rival Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG ) Google Maps application on its iPhone. There has been huge fallout from Apple's newest Maps technology, which recently was still doing things like getting people lost in Australian deserts. Maps software has tremendous commercial potential, and it's not encouraging that Apple still hasn't cracked the code on it.
Another company in mobile that has made a mistake or two of its own is Research in Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY ) . While this BlackBerry maker has nearly become obsolete, its stock has been resilient, rising more than 80% in the last quarter alone. It's still down for the year, but today's announcement that two new BlackBerrys with revamped interfaces are hitting the market on Jan. 30 appears to be a faint glimmer of hope.
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 importantly, your portfolio) going forward. To get instant access to his latest thinking on Apple, simply click here now.