Sometimes, the stock market just doesn't go where you think it will. On its face, good economic news from China would generally have gotten U.S. stocks off to a strong start, and better factory output and a drop in consumer prices in the U.S. show that inflation remains under control, even as the economy starts to perk up. But stocks nevertheless sold off into the weekend, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) finishing down about 36 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq saw bigger losses.

But several stocks did their best to hold the Dow up. Alcoa (NYSE:AA) was a big winner in the average, rising about 1.6%. Hints of stronger economic conditions in China and the U.S. are doubly supportive of Alcoa's global business, especially as it relies on end-user demand from U.S. manufacturers, as well as Chinese infrastructure and construction projects, to bolster aluminum prices. If economies around the world can get measurably better, then Alcoa could finally see a turnaround to its long slide.

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) was the biggest Dow gainer, finishing higher by about 1.7%. Former CEO Leo Apotheker argued yesterday that the entire HP board needs to share responsibility for the bungled acquisition of Autonomy, which recently led the company to have to take a massive charge due to alleged misrepresentations on Autonomy's part. Many have blamed Apotheker for pushing the deal too hard, but the key for long-term investors is that, while HP plays the blame game, the company is distracted from moving forward more productively. Still, investors clearly believe a turnaround is possible, given its jump from recent lows.

Finally, Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) rose about two-thirds of a percent. Gauging from the behavior of F5 Networks (NASDAQ:FFIV), which dropped 3.5%, it appears that Cisco has gotten new confidence from investors that it can hold off up-and-coming rivals and maintain its leadership in the space. A better economy around the world should definitely help the industry leader holds its own.

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