If Things Are Looking Up, Why is the Dow in the Dumps?

Economic news has been mostly upbeat this morning, yet the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down nearly 90 points at noon EST. It seems as if taper terror could be the reason.

Early on, the Department of Labor announced that initial jobless claims ticked upward last week to 368,000, a hike of 68,000 from the prior week. Analysts expected 325,000, so, from a taper viewpoint, this should have been greeted as good news.

Other announcements may have inflamed taper fears again, however -- not the least of which is the impending budget deal in Washington. The House is expected to pass the budget today, followed by the Senate next week, which takes a huge piece of uncertainty out of the economic picture. A new budget also means no repeat of the October government shutdown, a replay of which may have prompted the Federal Reserve to postpone the pullback of its quantitative easing program.

The Census Bureau released retail sales information for November, noting an increase of 0.7% from the prior month, beating estimates by 0.1%. In mortgage news, the latest Freddie Mac survey showed 30-year, fixed rates dropping to 4.42% this week, versus 4.46% for the previous week.

Bloomberg chimed in with its own glad tidings, showing another rise in its Consumer Comfort Index – the third increase in a row. A robust stock market and a better jobs outlook appear to be giving consumers a rosier view of the economy -- another bad sign for those worried about an early quantitative-easing taper.

Banks make peace with Volcker
Big banks are beginning to wake up as the morning wanes, with JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM  ) rising by nearly 0.3% and Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS  ) up by 0.5%. With the Volcker rule sideshow behind them, banks appear to be getting back to business. Some analysts, such as Doug Sipkin of Susquehanna Financial Gorup, have argued that Volcker won't affect banks like Goldman Sachs all that much, considering that the ban on proprietary trading didn't stick. Investors, it would seem, agree.

JPMorgan Chase is hogging headlines today for its ill-famed involvement with Bernie Madoff. The New York Times' Dealbook reported that approximately $2 billion in fines are being considered for the big bank, as well as criminal charges. JPMorgan is on the hot seat for allegedly ignoring Madoff's illegal actions, and some of the penalty money will go toward reparations to Madoff's victims, who collectively lost $17 billion in the investment scam.

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