It's another one of those days on Wall Street. As traders seek to digest a series of conflicting signals, the biggest of which is emanating from the nation's capital, the market is staying close to home. At roughly halfway through the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is up by 34 points, or 0.26%.
The obvious culprit for the market's indecision today is the so-called "fiscal cliff," a series of tax hikes and spending cuts that are slated to take effect next year in the absence of congressional action. Over the weekend, President Obama and House Speaker Boehner met to discuss the matter. Negotiations have been at an impasse recently, with Boehner saying last week that "no progress" has been made. While neither party provided details of the meeting, as the Associated Press noted, "the mere fact that the meeting happened was seen as progress."
On CNBC this morning, Erskine Bowles, the co-chair of President Obama's 2010 debt commission, pegged the probability of reaching a deal over the next couple of weeks at just under half: "There's a 40% chance of a 'fiscal cliff' deal before year end," Bowles said. Meanwhile, he believes there's a 35% chance that we'll go over the cliff, and a 25% chance of a deal being concluded just after the new year but before the actual spending cuts and tax increases take effect.
Consumer confidence has been one of the biggest victims of the ongoing stalemate in Washington. At the end of last week, a preliminary measure of consumer sentiment for the month of December tumbled to the lowest level since August. The reversal of an otherwise upbeat four-month rally couldn't come at a worse time. Consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of domestic output and a disproportionate amount takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
In terms of individual company news, shares of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) are trading higher on the heels of a series of conflicting analyst reports. Analysts at Jefferies & Co. lowered their price target on the tech giant to $800 per share, down from $900. Analysts at Piper Jaffray, meanwhile, maintained their $900 target because the fundamentals remain strong. Shares of Apple are currently trading at $535. They are down over 20% since their September high of $702 per share.
Shares of FedEx (NYSE:FDX) are also trading higher after the shipping company said that it expects today to set records in terms of the number of packages handled. The company estimates that it will handle 19 million packages on what is widely expected to be the company's busiest day of the year. This would amount to an 11% increase over the same day last year. Shares in the company are up by $0.87, or 0.97%.
With respect to Dow components specifically, among the worst-performing blue chip stocks are JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC), the nation's two largest banks by assets. It was reported this morning that JPMorgan has appointed a new head of banking in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. The move adds to a growing shakeup at the company in the wake of the London Whale scandal, in which the company lost billions of dollars on risky bets in its chief investment office.
Meanwhile, a self-sacrificial report out of B of A predicted that financial stocks are "at risk" in 2013 after a huge rally this year. According to the report: "We expect financials to trade sideways for the coming few years," says technical analyst Mary Ann Bartels. "The tactical rally and leadership trend for financials that began in late 2011 is coming under pressure in late 2012." Despite this, many other analysts, myself included, remain bullish on the sector going forward.