The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is eerily quiet today. The index is down a minuscule 0.12% as of 1:45 p.m. EST, with 18 stocks trading down and the other 12 going up. Few stocks are going anywhere fast: Only two winners and two losers moved more than 1%.
And there's really no narrative to tie it all together -- no progress on the fiscal cliff, no market-moving data on the U.S. economy. Days like these underscore the individual nature of stocks, even the 30 blue-chips that make up the Dow. What moves one paper might leave another untouched, and rarely does one event move the entire market at once.
Performance leader Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) jumped 1.4%, following the lead of peers in the basic-materials sector. Strong manufacturing reports from China and Europe boosted the sector but failed to spark a general stock-market cornucopia.
The other big winner is networking giant Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO ) , up 0.8% on another round of sectorwide good news. Cisco had no particular company-specific reason to rise, but ailing rival Alcatel-Lucent (UNKNOWN: ALU.DL ) was just thrown a lifeline in the form of a $2.1 billion loan. If megabanks Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) and Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS ) see a telecom spending turnaround coming in time to save Alcatel's bacon and make it repay its new debt, there's fresh hope for the struggling industry as a whole.
But again, the positive effects didn't leak far outside the networking equipment market. Tech giant Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) is among the modest losers today, and IBM (NYSE: IBM ) is up just 0.3%. So hold the party hats and streamers for the tech sector.
American Express (NYSE: AXP ) snagged the "biggest loser" title with a 1.4% plunge. There's nothing too specific to report, but credit card issuers are down in general. Funny how the consumer-spending barometers can fall even as economic indicators lift infrastructure plays like Alcoa.
The Dow doesn't always tell a coherent story. Invest accordingly.
Materials industries are traditionally known for their high barriers to entry, and the aluminum industry is no exception. Representing 14.7% of 2011 global production in this highly consolidated industry, Alcoa is in prime position to take advantage of growth that some expect will lead to total industry revenue approaching $160 billion by 2017. Based on this prospective and several other company-specific factors, Alcoa is certainly worth a closer look. For a Foolish investment perspective on this global giant, simply click here to get started.