With reports of positive retail sales figures and U.S. debt ceiling talks taking a backseat to earnings data, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) was able to shake off another horrible day from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and rally for a positive close. Keep in mind that, as the company with the largest weighting within the S&P 500, Apple's performance can drastically influence the index.

Apple shares remained under pressure a day after a piece from The Wall Street Journal implied that Apple was scaling back its parts orders from iPhone manufacturers. In response to the news, Nomura cut its price target on Apple from $660 to $530, and cut unit sale estimates by 5% this year and 8% next year. Even if these cuts prove as severe as the deepest of pessimists predict, Apple is still trading at less than 10 times forward earnings with 25% of its market value made up of cash alone. I'd still call it an incredible value.

In spite of the Apple drag, the S&P 500 finished higher by 1.66 points (0.11%) to end at 1,472.34. But don't let the small move fool you, because there were quite a few significant gainers within the index.

PC and networking products maker Dell (UNKNOWN:DELL.DL) led the pack for a second day following the emergence of more details in its bid to go private. According to reports, talks of going private have been ongoing for months and involve a consortium of TPG Capital and Silver Lake, as well as JPMorgan. Some pundits have argued a buyout is unlikely given Dell's size, but I believe, under the right circumstances, a buyout is quite possible. Dell is in the midst of transitioning from being simply a PC maker to being a cloud-based solutions provider. With strong cash flow from both businesses, I feel investors have strongly discounted Dell's earnings potential for the past year. Dell shares finished the day higher by another 7%.

For-profit education company Apollo Group (NASDAQ:APOL), best known for its University of Phoenix campuses, also had a pretty impressive gain -- up better than 5% -- after announcing its intentions to offer an executive education course on business innovation. The online course will be headed by professors from Harvard and Brigham Young, and Apollo hopes it'll return some educational credibility to one of many schools mired in an increasingly government-regulated sector. Given the many changes being made to government-issued student loans, I'd just as soon avoid the vast majority of the for-profit sector, including Apollo.

Finally, Internet security and IT management solutions provider Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC) popped nearly 5% after receiving an analyst upgrade from Morgan Stanley and noting its intentions to put IT management solutions firm Altiris up for sale. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Holt boosted his rating on the company to "overweight" from "equal weight" and set a price target of $25 on the company which he claimed "has one of the best risk/rewards in our coverage group." Just a few hours later, Symantec put Altiris, a company it acquired in 2007 for $830 million, on the chopping block. New CEO Steve Bennett definitely isn't wasting any time with house-cleaning duties and ridding Symantec of non-core operations.

Fool contributor Sean Williams owns shares of Dell, but has no material interest in any other companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.

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