After spending most of the day above water, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) dropped late in the session, to finish down 21 points, or 0.15%. With sequestration set to go into effect tomorrow, the markets seemed unaffected by the looming budget cuts, as the blue chips nearly hit an all-time high earlier in the session.
The Dow seemed to start the day off on the right foot, as initial unemployment claims were lower than expected, coming in at 344,000, against estimates of 360,000. The fourth-quarter GDP was also revised upwards slightly, from -0.1%, to 0.1%, though economists had projected a growth rate of 0.5%. Finally, the Chicago PMI showed a strong expansion at 56.8, better than 54.0. Any number above 50.0 indicates expansion.
Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) was a big winner again today, climbing 1.9%, to make it the Dow's best-performing stock of the day. HP seemed to be riding a wave that has now sent its shares up just about 80% in the last three months. Investors seem to be buying into the turnaround effort, especially after the company announced an initiative to make tablets, and sold its WebOS system, saying it would go with Google's Android system instead. There was no company-specific news out today, but bullish momentum seems set to carry this value play higher.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) was at the other end of the spectrum today, falling 1.2% on a late-day plunge. Again, there was no company-specific late-breaking news on the retailer, and investors may have been reacting to a lack of a resolution on sequestration, because that will likely hurt consumer spending. Earlier in the day, the company announced its chief administrative officer will be leaving the company, perhaps in response to recent media leaks. Today, news broke that there may be supply chain problems, as the U.S. Chief Executive said, "We run out quickly and the new stuff doesn't come in."
Finally, Groupon (NASDAQ:GRPN) was making headlines after hours for the second day in a row today. Just 24 hours after the deals merchant reported another dismal quarter, which caused shares to fall 24%, the board fired its young, wacky CEO, Andrew Mason. With characteristic irreverence, Mason told employees in his farewell letter, "I've decided to spend more time with my family. Just kidding -- I was fired." Executive Chariman Eric Lefkofsky and Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis will take over in the new "Office of the Chief Executive." Mason's ouster had been rumored for some time, as Groupon's performance has been a nightmare since its IPO, but it's unclear what Lefkofsky and Leonsis will do to right this ship.