Why the Market Gained Traction

Sometimes things happen for no reason. Exhibit A: the stock market rally that started around noon. Despite great news in the housing sector, a veritable boatload of less encouraging events kept stocks trading within a tight range throughout the morning -- that is, until the algorithms took over. As of 2:45 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is up 35 points, or 0.26%.

As my colleague Dan Dzombak noted earlier, traders were confronted with no fewer than five economic reports issued today. On the positive side, third-quarter GDP expanded at a faster pace than previously estimated, existing-home sales shot up nearly 12% in November, and the FHFA home price index similarly advanced by 0.5%. On the downside, new unemployment claims increased by 17,000 last week, and the Conference Board Leading Economic Index moved into negative territory.

Additionally, recent reports from Washington suggest that the two political parties are once again at loggerheads over the fiscal-cliff negotiations. The markets have rallied over the last few weeks as signs of progress continued to accumulate. Last weekend, House Republicans finally relented and are now willing to increase tax rates on Americans earning more than $1 million per year. Meanwhile, President Obama increased his threshold to $400,000, up from an original $250,000. But this week, progress has ground to a halt, with the Republicans proposing a so-called "plan B" and the Democrats planning to vote against it.

In terms of individual stocks, the best-performing component of the Dow is Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , followed closely by JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) . Much of this is likely due to the upbeat news from the housing sector, as both banks are sitting on billions of dollars' worth of mortgages. Earlier in the week, moreover, noted bank bear Meredith Whitney improved her outlook for the sector overall and Bank of America specifically.

Heading lower, on the other hand, are a handful of technology companies including Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) , IBM (NYSE: IBM  ) , and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO  ) . The ongoing stalemate over the fiscal cliff is taking its toll here, as these companies rely on business investment, which is waning in the face of the ongoing economic and political uncertainty.

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