The Dow is down for a second day in a row as investors gear up for earnings season. As of 1:30 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) is down 73 points, or 0.54%, to 13,312. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) is down 0.45%.
This morning's sole economic release came from the National Federation of Independent Business, which told us that small-business optimism rose 0.5 points to 88 in December -- but that's still the lowest level since March 2010. Small-business optimism was down from the year's earlier highs as Congress was still debating the fiscal cliff and looking likely to let the economy go over the cliff.
Earnings season starts today, with Alcoa (NYSE: AA ) expected to report after the market close. Alcoa is a cyclical company whose results fluctuate with the economy, and as such, the company is largely seen as a bellwether of the economy. Monsanto (NYSE: MON ) reported positive earnings this morning, but the company is not seen as being representative of the larger economy. Estimize, a "wisdom of the crowds" estimates community, expects Alcoa to earn $0.07 per share. That's 16% higher than Wall Street analysts' expectations of $0.06 per share.
Today's Dow leader
Pharmaceuticals are trying in vain to push the Dow up. Today's Dow leader is Merck (NYSE: MRK ) , up 0.9%. Second for the day is Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) up 0.7% to $26.15, a 52 week high. There's a lot to like about big pharmaceutical companies. Their businesses are relatively uncorrelated with the economy, they typically pay large dividends, and they are cheap relative to their earnings potential.
If you'd like to learn more about Merck, grab your copy of our brand-new premium research report today. Our senior biotech analyst, Brian Orelli, Ph.D., walks you through both the opportunities and threats facing Merck, and the report comes with a full 12 months of updates. Claim your copy now by clicking here.