Today should have been a great day for stocks. Housing starts surged to a four-year high in October, a solution to the "fiscal cliff" has been looking more and more likely in the past week, and peace talks are under way in the Israel-Gaza conflict. Two of the three major U.S. indices got that message and advanced. Eighteen of the Dow Jones Industrial Average's (DJINDICES:^DJI) 30 components sensed the mood and ticked higher. The other 12 didn't get the message, and two of them in particular seemed determined to drag the whole index down with them. The Dow closed down 7 points, or 0.06%, to close at 12,788 on Tuesday.
The worst offender of the day was Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ), which announced quarterly earnings. In what could very well be a case study for how not to impress investors, HP disappointed with its bleak future earnings forecasts, wrote down $8.8 billion because of a purchase it made last year, and accused that company, software firm Autonomy, of lying about its financial health. HP shares fell nearly 12%.
Chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) was the other significant laggard in the Dow, falling almost 4%. The HP debacle certainly didn't help Intel's performance as a tech company, but a bigger reason for its fall was the announcement yesterday that its CEO and president, Paul Otellini, will step down in May, raising questions about Intel's future direction.
On the brighter side, Bank of America (NYSE:BAC) was the top gainer in the Dow today, jumping nearly 1.5% on the surprisingly good housing numbers. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's bullish comments on the U.S. economy's future if the fiscal cliff is averted also helped to boost Bank of America's shares.
In other news, famed investor George Soros has become more bullish on gold, increasing his investment in the metal to what amounts to more than a $220 million stake. Many consider metals such as gold and silver to be sound investments if inflation takes a strong hold in the years to come. Individual investors may prefer to invest in these areas with instruments that track the underlying asset prices, as iShares Silver Trust (NYSEMKT:SLV) does with silver and SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEMKT:GLD) does with gold.