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Throughout the first part of this week, hope sprang eternal that somehow Congress and President Obama would come to a compromise on reconciling coming tax-rate increases and spending cuts. Yet when those hopes gave way to failure last night, the market's response was negative but somewhat muted. As a result, even though the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) lost more than 120 points today, it ended up with a gain for the week. Moreover, the broader market measures held onto gains of well over 1% for the week despite dropping around 1% today.
Within the Dow, two stocks managed to buck the downtrend. McDonald's (NYSE: MCD ) has always been a stalwart of economic turmoil, as one of the few stocks to hold well during the 2008 recession. Its gain of 0.1% today wasn't all that significant, but even as the fast-food giant generated some controversy by opening its restaurants for the Christmas holiday, its reputation for serving cash-strapped customers in hard times attracted investors today as fears of a cliff-induced recession mount.
At the other end of the affluence spectrum was American Express (NYSE: AXP ) , which picked up nearly half a percent today. The card company has traditionally catered to a rich clientele that's most likely to get hurt by tax-cut expiration. But with AmEx having teamed up with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) to market its Bluebird prepaid card offering, AmEx is trying to get past its exclusive membership roots to attract a wider audience.
Finally, outside the Dow, gainers were equally scarce, but Hovnanian (NYSE: HOV ) popped by 14% on a late-day surge. Although the homebuilding industry has gotten a lot healthier recently, today's big rise seems more likely tied to institutional activity and the expiration of December options, as the rise came on heavy volume of 31 million shares with most of it coming in the final minutes of trading.
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