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Higher-than-expected retail sales energized investors today, sufficing to send the markets modestly higher. Wall Street seemed relatively unfazed by what looks like the beginning of another politico-financial showdown, this time regarding the extension of the debt limit. But the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) shrugged off hints of another Capitol Hill give-and-take, rising 27 points, or 0.2%, to close at 13,534 on Tuesday. The Dow Jones Transportation Average, the oldest U.S. stock index, even closed at an all-time high.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) led all blue-chip stocks today, gaining 1.2%. Encouraged by news from Facebook (NASDAQ: FB ) that the social networking site will be using Microsoft's Bing to help power a new search functionality within Facebook's site, Microsoft has a lot to gain from a successful partnership. Ironically, Facebook shares fell 2.7% on the big announcement, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg made himself at company headquarters. Of course, the news that Facebook reportedly shed 1.4 million members in December didn't help the stock out, either.
Another stock participating in the Dow's gains today was equipment conglomerate Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT ) , rising 1.1%. You'd be hard-pressed to find another Dow stock that moves hand in hand with the economy like Caterpillar does, so today's upbeat retail numbers may be the cause of its outperformance. Caterpillar's 6.8% rise in 2013 is more than double what the Dow (+3.3%) has been able to return thus far.
Of course, not all stocks can be highfliers. Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ ) brought that point home today, stumbling 2.5%. Despite the fall, HP shares are still up a whopping 16% in January, making it the best performer in the entire Dow this year. CEO Meg Whitman hopes to turn around the volatile tech company, especially after a forgettable 2012 that saw massive writedowns and a tougher PC market.