You used to be able to count on the bull-market mentality to pull a sagging market up by the end of the trading day. Lately, though, that old trend has reversed itself, with stocks become increasingly weak as the day goes on. Coming into the weekend, it seemed as though short-term traders didn't want to hold onto stocks in advance of a key Federal Reserve meeting next week. By the close, the Dow Jones Industrials (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) had fallen 106 points, closing the week with a level of volatility that has been unusual in recent months, but which has started to pick up more recently.
A few Dow stocks managed to defy the decline and post modest gains. The big winner on the day was Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , which climbed almost 1% on the day. As Fool contributor Travis Hoium noted earlier today, one of the biggest issues facing Verizon is expanding its available wireless spectrum in order to allow its network to function more effectively and broadly. With the government having worked to ensure that smaller carriers get equal access to the spectrum that Verizon and rival AT&T have gotten, investors have been concerned that the big companies might get shut out of future spectrum auctions. Today, though, the White House ordered various government agencies to try to come up with ways to free up more spectrum for wireless companies, a move that could prove to be to Verizon's benefit.
One surprising minor winner today was Home Depot (NYSE: HD ) , which finished up just 0.1%. Housing is at the epicenter of the economic uncertainty we've seen lately, as rising mortgage rates have already spurred concerns about whether the recovery in the housing market will withstand homebuyers having to make larger monthly payments. Yet, at least for now, good news from a number of other home-related retailers, especially the high-end home furnishings business, have investors remaining confident that Home Depot can continue to use its competitive advantage to remain a leader in the industry.
Finally, big-pharma giants Merck (NYSE: MRK ) and Pfizer (NYSE: PFE ) both posted modest gains today. Merck announced that it would cut some jobs at its research laboratories, with an emphasis on trying to get drug candidates through the approval process in a more streamlined way. Yet, both companies have an amazing opportunity in the emerging markets, and with bond rates having eased downward today, dividend-paying stocks, in general, were among the better performers after their recent slumps.
This titan of the pharmaceutical industry stumbled into 2013, and continues to battle patent expirations and pipeline problems. Is Merck still a solid dividend play, or should investors be looking elsewhere? In a new premium research report on Merck, The Fool tackles all of the company's moving parts, its major market opportunities, and reasons to both buy and sell. To find out more, click here to claim your copy today.