The Dow is down slightly as a result of a disappointing Consumer Confidence Index. As of 1:20 p.m. EST, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) is up a meager six points to 13,602. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) sits at breakeven.
In today's sole economic release, the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index fell to 71.3, falling short of December's 72.9 as well as analyst expectations of 74.2. This is the index's lowest level since December 2011. Consumers have remained pessimistic as Congress continues to bicker over spending. The government hit the debt ceiling a little more than two weeks ago and expects to run out of money by Feb. 15. If recent history repeats itself, Congress will not come up with a solution until the very last minute.
Whether or not the debt ceiling is dealt with, the issue of automatic spending cuts left over from the fiscal cliff remains: When members of Congress passed the tax bill to help solve the fiscal cliff, they chose to push these cuts down the road to March 1, rather than make tough budget decisions. Therefore Congress still needs to tackle spending one way or the other, and big spending cuts will hit the economy at least in the short term.
Given the downbeat economic news and no signs of progress on the debt ceiling, it's no surprise that the market has been muted today.
Today's Dow leader
Today's Dow leader is General Electric (NYSE:GE), up 3.3%. The company reported earnings today that beat expectations across the board. GE reported earnings of $0.44 per share, beating analyst expectations of $0.43. Excluding one-time items, earnings were $0.38 per share -- a 7.5% improvement on last year's $0.35. Revenue was $39.3 billion, above analyst expectations of $38.76 billion. Also notable was a 3.5% rise in the company's backlog. Backlogs are indicative of future demand, but remember that backlogs can just as easily decline when the economy suffers.
Dan Dzombak can be found on Twitter @DanDzombak or on his Facebook page, DanDzombak. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. 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.