Why Stocks Are Wavering to End the Week

Stocks have oscillated today between positive and negative as investors and traders continue to watch whether the fiscal cliff will be resolved before the end of the year. With roughly an hour left in the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is off by a mere 19 points, or 0.15%.

The day started out strong following a report from China suggesting that its manufacturing sector is once again expanding. Things took a turn for the worse, however, right before lunch as traders were reminded of the ongoing stalemate in Washington.

President Obama and House Speaker Boehner met again yesterday in an effort to work out a deal before the economy careens over the proverbial cliff in less than three weeks. While the exchange was purportedly "frank" -- whatever that's supposed to mean -- it seems clear that nothing was resolved, as the president's press spokesman would only say that the "lines of communication remain open," which doesn't tell us much, either.

In terms of individual stocks, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) continues to head lower. Today's 4.25% decline stems from an analyst downgrade. Shares of the iPhone maker are now down almost 25% from their mid-September high. Despite Apple's undeniable ability to effectively print money, many are beginning to wonder whether its current trajectory can be maintained.

Shares of electronics retailer Best Buy (NYSE: BBY  ) are also off considerably today, down almost 15% in mid-afternoon trading. Reports yesterday that the company's former CEO would extend an offer to take the company private today appear to have been premature, as the company's board has now extended the deadline for an offer to the end of February.

Both of the Dow's energy companies are trading lower today, with ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM  ) and Chevron (NYSE: CVX  ) down 0.6% and 0.1%, respectively. Given that the price of oil rose following the news out of China -- which generally triggers upward pressure on shares of Exxon and Chevron -- it just goes to show how concerned traders are about the fiscal cliff.

Meanwhile, General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) is higher today following the company's announcement that it will increase its dividend payout by 12% in January. Interestingly, it decided against moving its first-quarter payout to this year in order to avoid a potential hike in the applicable tax rate. Other companies, such as Caterpillar and Legg Mason, had made such a move in recent weeks.

And shares of aluminum giant Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) are up more than 1.5%. Earlier today the company announced that its wheel and transportation business is opening a production facility in China to take advantage of that country's growing automobile market -- in fact, as my colleague Dan Dzombak pointed out, China is now the largest car market in the world.

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