What's Fueling Today's Rally?

The rumor circulating prior to earnings season was that stocks would get hammered once companies started releasing worse-than-expected results from the fourth quarter of 2012. That now appears to be far from the case -- at least for the time being.

Two days after Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) unofficially kicked off earnings season, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) appears headed for a second straight gain. The blue-chip index is up 68 points, or 0.5%, with an hour left in trading.

Many are looking to China as the impetus for today's climb. Data released this morning showed that the country's trade surplus increased sharply last month to $31.6 billion, fueled by double-digit growth in exports. The better-than-expected results help to combat fears of a slowdown in the world's second-largest economy.

Working against the positive news out of China was a report suggesting that the labor market recovery here at home hit a speed bump last week. According to the Department of Labor, initial claims for unemployment benefits were higher than expected for the week ended Jan. 5. The figure came in at 371,000, which was an increase of 4,000 from the previous week's revised figure.

Turning to individual stocks, shares of Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) are leading the Dow higher today, up 3.1% in afternoon trading. The move comes a day after its shares plummeted on news that B of A, the nation's second-largest bank by assets, had been downgraded to "neutral" from "outperform" by an equity analyst at Credit Suisse.

Alternatively, the biggest blue-chip laggard today is Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) . With the Consumer Electronics Show underway in Las Vegas -- click here to see the Fool's video coverage of the event -- tech companies that have made a splash at the event, including Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) have seen their shares climb over the last few days. For the first time in more than a decade, however, Microsoft has decided not to formally participate in the event, handing the keynote-speaking reins over to mobile-chip maker Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM  ) -- though Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did make a surprise appearance on stage during the latter's presentation.

How to beat bad earnings
At the end of the day, the world's greatest investors don't get hung up on one particular earnings season over another, because they buy great companies and hold them for years, if not decades, to come. As Warren Buffett has famously said, the best time to sell a stock is never.

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