Why the Dow Paused This Morning

After weeks of having the fiscal cliff to worry about, investors are finally trying to get back to business as usual. That means beginning to focus on the coming earnings season, which officially starts next Monday when Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) reports. Until then, economic data like this morning's ADP report, which showed gains of 215,000 private-sector jobs in December, will move the market, as will speculation about how the government will resolve the debt ceiling debate and other pressing concerns. By 10:45 a.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) had fallen about 25 points, and the broader market gave up similarly small portions of its big gains from yesterday.

For its part, Alcoa rose slightly in morning trade, adding to its nearly 4% jump yesterday. Analysts expect the company to reverse a year-ago loss despite an expected 6% drop in revenue when it reports fourth-quarter results, but the real key will be any guidance the aluminum giant gives for the coming year. If Alcoa suggests that a long-awaited turnaround won't come in 2013, shares could give up their recent gains.

Outside the Dow, solar company SunPower (NASDAQ: SPWR  ) soared 30% after announcing a deal with Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-B  ) subsidiary MidAmerican Energy Holdings, which will pay $2 billion to $2.5 billion for two solar projects in California. With the projects expected to be finished within the next three years, the Warren Buffett seal of approval may mark a turning point for solar stocks generally, many of which posted substantial rises in sympathy.

Finally, Family Dollar (NYSE: FDO  ) plunged 11% after missing earnings expectations and cutting its 2013 guidance from a range of $4.10 to $4.40 to a lower range of $3.95 to $4.20. With the payroll tax reduction having ended on Jan. 1, discount retailers could see their customer base take an especially big hit in disposable income, hurting them disproportionately more than higher-end retail chains.

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