Why Stocks Are Cautiously Higher Today

Stocks are trading higher this afternoon as investors position themselves for the throes of fourth-quarter earnings season. Aluminum maker Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) kicked things off yesterday with results that roughly met Wall Street expectations, as well as an improved forecast for the remainder of 2013. In response, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is up by 46 points, or 0.35%, as the market reacts to the seemingly auspicious start.

The biggest laggard today is Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) , down more than 4% in midday trading. This morning, Credit Suisse analyst Moshe Orenbuch downgraded the bank's stock from "outperform" to "neutral." According to Orenbuch, "The current valuation appears to be ahead of the company's near to intermediate-term performance and appears to be discounting significantly faster improvements in efficiency than we would be expecting."

Earlier this week, B of A resolved two massive outstanding liabilities against it. First, it entered into a multibillion-dollar agreement with Fannie Mae that will purportedly mend the institutions' strained relationship. The parties have, shall we say, struggled to get along since Fannie Mae learned that Countrywide Financial, which B of A acquired in 2008, had sold it copious amounts of toxic mortgages in the lead-up to the financial crisis. And the second concerned a settlement in which B of A was joined by JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) and others concerning faulty foreclosures following the crisis.

Alternatively, the top-performing Dow stock today is Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) , up almost 3% in afternoon trading. Over the past few days, the aerospace company has come under heat after a number of its new 787 Dreamliners experienced mechanical problems -- one even catching fire while parked at Boston's Logan International Airport. Despite these problems, however, customers are standing behind the company. One of Boeing's biggest customers compared the issues to "teething problems," leading CNBC's Jim Cramer to prescribe grape water.

Anxious to learn more about Alcoa?
Materials industries are traditionally known for their high barriers to entry, and the aluminum industry is no exception. Representing 14.7% of 2011 global production in this highly consolidated industry, Alcoa is in prime position to take advantage of growth that some expect will lead to total industry revenue approaching $160 billion by 2017. Based on this prospective and several other company-specific factors, Alcoa is certainly worth a closer look. For a Foolish investment perspective on this global giant, simply click here to get started.


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