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 (NYSE:ALU) 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.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Check out Anders' bio and holdings or follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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