Stocks Stabilize as Investors Prepare for the Next Great Debate

After a day of mayhem yesterday, the markets have calmed, and some semblance of order has returned for the time being. After the markets popped yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down just 0.1% as of 3 p.m. EST, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) has fallen 0.15%. Stocks had shown small gains before the Federal Reserve minutes were released, and when investors found out that the Fed will likely stop buying bonds in 2013, the gains swung to losses.

The economic news out today was fairly encouraging. ADP said employment rose 215,000 in the U.S. during December, higher than the 150,000 estimate from analysts. This is a preview of the more widely watched government surveys that come out on Friday. That's when we'll find out if the Labor Department also saw improvement in employment last month.

UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH  ) is the biggest loser on the Dow, falling 3.6% for the day. The company was downgraded from "buy" to "hold" by Deutsche Bank. Analysts don't see drivers for growth in the managed-care space and are lowering expectations going forward.

On the positive side, Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT  ) are leading the Dow, gaining 1.3% and 1.1%, respectively. Analysts at ISI Group upgraded Caterpillar, along with a number of other machinery companies, and the stock continues to be a top performer. Both Alcoa and Caterpillar had a lot riding on the fiscal-cliff negotiations, because they're tied to construction spending and economic growth.

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Elsewhere in trading, gold fell 1.35% today on improved economic certainty. In the U.S., gold is often viewed as a hedge against inflation, and with some temporary stability in Washington, the precious metal is less attractive to investors.


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