The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) closed basically flat -- again. But there were a few interesting pieces of news and a few moderately large gainers:

Company

Price Change

Bank of America (NYSE: BAC) 1.1%
Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO) 1.1%
American Express (NYSE: AXP) 1%

As foreshadowed by reports of strong demand for switches in recent weeks, Cisco announced strong second-quarter earnings today. Earnings per share grew more than 17% to $0.47 per share, while revenue grew 4%. Cisco's CEO called the quarter "unusually strong," and investors will want to keep an eye on whether Cisco's continues to show steady improvement, or whether the great quarter was a one-time thing -- particularly in light of Europe's recession.

There was only a bit of news to justify Bank of America and American Express' gains today. The National Association of Homebuilders' sentiment index rose slightly, and industrial production in August rose 0.6% from July. Steady improvement in the housing market and anything suggestive of jobs and income growth can be considered good signs for large mortgage and consumer lenders like B of A and AmEx.

Bank of America, Cisco, and American Express all beat the market, but as investors it's also important for us to remember to keep our eyes on long-term performance. If you're looking for some more stock ideas, The Motley Fool recently highlighted "The 3 Dow Stocks Dividend Investors Need." You can get the full scoop on these three promising Dow dividend dynamos.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.