I wish I could say it wasn't so, but renewed worries that both political parties will be unable to come to an agreement over a combination of higher taxes and lower spending -- known collectively as the fiscal cliff that's set to take effect on Jan. 1 -- has investors running scared. It's a near unanimous opinion among economists that going over the fiscal cliff would throw the U.S. economy back into a recession, so it's pertinent that both sides work together to forge a deal that's both good for America and the ordinary taxpayer.
Following another day without any real progress on this front, the broad-based S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) fell backwards by 5.50 points (-0.40%), to end at 1,374.53.
If there is one tidbit of good news to take from this indecisiveness, it's that many of the moves within the S&P 500 were fairly tame.
One of the leading companies to the upside was do-it-yourself home improvement store Home Depot (NYSE:HD), which beat Wall Street's EPS estimates by $0.04, as it reported a 23% rise in adjusted profits and a 4.2% jump in same-store sales in the third quarter. Further, Home Depot boosted its full-year sales and EPS forecast to growth of 5.2%, and EPS of $3.03, from previous estimates of 4.6% sales growth on EPS of $2.95. The rebound in the housing market is really beginning to pay rewards, and Home Depot looks well positioned to benefit for years to come. Shares ended up nearly 4%.
Energy-drink maker Monster Beverage (NASDAQ:MNST) didn't exactly have a "monster" day, up just shy of 3%, but it nonetheless excited shareholders by approving a stock repurchase program of up to $250 million. In the midst of ongoing scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration regarding the safety of its energy drinks, Monster's actions show its commitment to shareholders, and the belief that its share are undervalued. Personally, I don't believe that today's announcement will curb further downside, but I applaud Monster for trying.
Today's big dipper was discount retailer Big Lots (NYSE:BIG), which careened lower by 5%, after an analyst at Deutsche Bank told investors to head for the hills while they still can. According to analyst Charles Grom, Big Lots' increased number of promotional events is evidence that it's having difficulty selling its merchandise at full price, which should bode poorly on margins. Given its recent failures in the earnings column, Grom may be onto something here.
Rounding out the losers column is software giant Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which shed 3% after announcing that the head of its Windows division, and 23-year Microsoft veteran Steve Sinofsky was leaving the company. The move is particularly odd given that Windows 8 just launched two weeks ago. With its Windows operating system being, without question, its biggest money driver, a cloud of skepticism is sweeping over Microsoft and leaving many wondering who'll fill Sinofsky's large shoes.
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