As has been its pattern recently, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) finished essentially unchanged for the second day in a row, gaining eight points, or 0.06%. For the third week in a row, the blue chips closed a hair away from the 14,000 mark, this time going into the weekend at 13,981.
The Dow started the day up modestly, as the Empire State Manufacturing report, which shows factory activity in the New York area, was well ahead of expectations, and the Michigan consumer sentiment report also beat projections. This showed that consumers appear to have gotten over the worries surrounding the fiscal cliff. Overall industrial production unexpectedly declined, however, according to a report from the Federal Reserve.
The markets also reacted to an intense debate at the G20 meeting over currency manipulation, as Japan has expressed a desire to devalue the yen, as well as news that Congress will be taking next week off, despite not having come up with any solution to the sequester. If the legislative body does nothing, across-the-board spending cuts in the federal budget will go into effect at the end of the month, and as many as 750,000 could lose their jobs.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) was the big loser on the Dow today, falling 2.2%, when an internal memo revealed that the world's No. 1 retailer's February start was the worst it's seen in any month in seven years. Higher payroll taxes are a potential culprit, as the payroll tax hike took out a 2% chunk of the average consumer's paycheck. One executive called the February sales a disaster, and the news brought down other major retailers such as Target and Macy's.
Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) was the top gainer on the Dow, rising 1.6%, a day after rival Pepsi beat earnings estimates. No company-specific news was out, but rumors were swirling that energy drink-maker Monster Beverage (NASDAQ:MNST) could be the target of a buyout. Coke would figure a prime suitor for Monster, as it already distributes the world's No. 2 energy drink.