As of 1:30 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is down 30 points, or 0.23%, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) is down just two points.

The three U.S. economic releases this morning were mixed for stocks.





Markit U.S. Purchasing Managers' Index




Institute for Supply Management PMI




Construction spending




Source: MarketWatch U.S. Economic Calendar.

This morning Markit announced its U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index, which gauges whether economic activity is expanding or contracting. Any reading greater than 50 indicates growth, and higher numbers indicate that managers are more confident in the improvement of the economy. The PMI's reading was 52.8 for November, 1.8 points ahead of October, indicating that more purchasing managers see the economy growing than last month. 

The Institute for Supply Management's PMI, however, gave a less optimistic outlook than Markit's. The ISM PMI dropped 2.2 points in November to 49.5, down from October's 51.7. This is the lowest level since July 2009 and far below analyst expectations of 51.7. The ISM PMI has been trending slowly downward for the past two years as purchasing managers surveyed by the ISM see less improvement in the economy. It's not unusual for the two PMIs to be different. As Markit notes: "Please note that Markit's PMI data, final and flash, are derived from information collected by Markit from a different panel of companies to those that participate in the ISM Report on Business. No information from the ISM survey is used in the production of Markit's PMI."

US Purchasing Managers Index data by YCharts.

The third U.S. economic release came from the U.S. Department of Commerce, which reported construction spending rose 1.4% last month, beating analyst expectations of a 0.5% rise. Private homebuilding led the way with a 3% rise. The housing market has been a source of strength for the U.S. economy recently, and that's been reflected by homebuilder stocks, which are up significantly this year. The SPDR S&P Homebuilders ETF (NYSEMKT:XHB) is up just more than 50% this year.

With no new news about Congress' negotiations over the fiscal cliff and a mixed bag of economic reports, it's no surprise that the market is largely unchanged. Some stocks are trying to get the Dow to finish higher. Here are the top two.

Today's Dow leaders
Today's Dow leader is Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) up 0.9%. The networking company made news last week when it announced it is buying network solutions company Cariden Technologies for $141 million. Cariden makes capacity-planning and management tools for IP/MPLS networks used by telecom companies. This is Cisco's third acquisition in November and Cisco's 10th acquisition for 2012. Fool analyst Tim Beyers recently spelled out the key areas Cisco investors need to watch. Click here for his take.

Second for the day is Merck (NYSE:MRK), up 0.47%. Today, the company announced it has started a Phase 2 trial of MK-8931 to evaluate the safety of the Alzheimer's disease drug in 200 patients before undertaking a larger Phase 3 trial. The bigger news from last week was that the company is upping its dividend 2% from $0.42 per quarter to $0.43 per quarter. The stock is slowly rising, as investors find its dividend yield of 3.9% to be a compelling opportunity.

Dan Dzombak can be found on his Facebook page. He owns shares of Cisco. Click here and like his Facebook page to follow his investing articles. The Motley Fool has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.