U.S. stock markets were in a slow and steady decline this week despite reasonably good economic data. The Department of Commerce said retail sales were up 0.7% in November despite a very late Thanksgiving holiday. That points to continued strength from consumers, which is great because consumers account for 70% of the U.S. economy. But traders were likely distracted by worries about tapering and the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) fell 1.65% for the week.
The Dow's top stock this week was Visa (NYSE: V), which was up 2.7%. The stock got a boost Thursday, when competitor MasterCard announced a $3.5 billion buyback program, increased its dividend 83%, and announced a 10-for-1 stock split. Friday also brought good news when a federal judge approved a $5.7 billion settlement with merchants.
Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS) was the second best stock on the Dow with a measly 0.7% gain this week. When you consider that a tougher-than-hoped-for Volcker rule, intended to keep banks from making high-risk bets with their own money, passed this week, the fact that the stock is up is impressive. The Volcker rule was supposed to be a key win for regulators, but there are already holes emerging, such as the ability to do proprietary trading of equities in foreign countries. At the end of the day, I don't think the new regulations will hurt Goldman Sachs all that much, and that's a win for the big banks, until the next financial crisis.
Rounding out the Dow's top stocks is Caterpillar (NYSE: CAT), which was up 0.6%. There wasn't any breaking news out about the company, but management did decide to maintain its quarterly dividend at $0.60 per share. Amazingly, Caterpillar has increased its dividend for the last 20 years and made payments to shareholders every year since 1933.
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