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After an ambivalent response to this morning's jobs report, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) finished with moderate gains, up 44 points, or 0.3%. The S&P 500, meanwhile, hit a five-year high, at 1466.
The Labor Department reported that 155,000 jobs were added in December, enough to keep up with population growth, but not enough to make a meaningful dent in the unemployment rolls. The figure was roughly in line with jobs numbers in each of the last six months, and November's unemployment rate was revised up to 7.8%, and held steady in December. Construction and health-care sectors showed particularly strong growth last month, as the growing housing market and Sandy recovery helped add new construction jobs.
Elsewhere, the ISM services index hit a 10-month high of 56.1, but factory orders for November were flat.
Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) led Dow components today, gaining 2.1%. There was no major company-specific news out on the aluminum maker, but the company stands to benefit from the modestly improving jobs market and the fiscal cliff deal. Alcoa will also kick off earnings season next Tuesday, and investors may be optimistic about its results. Analysts are expecting an EPS of $0.07, because aluminum prices have been low; but those figures also present an easy bar to clear.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) , on the other hand, was the biggest loser, falling 1.9%, after Argus Research cut its rating on the Windows maker from buy to hold. Analyst Joseph Bonner said:
Early data indicate that Windows 8 may not be selling particularly well and that mass adoption will likely take longer than initially expected.
Windows 8 has been widely considered a disappointment, and Microsoft's future seems to be tied more and more to its ability to make headway in the mobile sector.
In other Dow stocks making news, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO ) made another investment, this time acquiring Cohda Wireless, which is working on creating Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems. The technology allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles and with infrastructure, helping to eliminate accidents and congestion. The amount Cisco invested was not disclosed. Shares rose modestly, up 0.16%.
It's been a frustrating path for Microsoft investors, who've watched the company fail to capitalize on the incredible growth in mobile over the past decade. However, with the release of its own tablet, along with the widely-anticipated Windows 8 operating system, the company is looking to make a splash in this booming market. In this brand-new premium report on Microsoft, our analyst explains that, while the opportunity is huge, the challenges are many. He's also providing regular updates as key events occur, so make sure to claim a copy of this report now by clicking here.