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Why the Dow Is Struggling to Hold On Today

By John Maxfield - Apr 4, 2013 at 3:26PM

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After whipsawing for most of the day, the Dow is struggling to hold onto its gains.

Earlier today, it looked as if yesterday's losses were behind us, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (^DJI 1.34%) had rallied more than 70 points in morning trading. However, it dipped into negative territory and then clawed its way back for a modest gain of 37 points, or 0.26%, by 3:15 p.m. EDT.

The obvious indecision in the market today stems from two countervailing factors. On the one hand, the Department of Labor reported today that significantly more Americans filed for unemployment last week than had been anticipated by economists. For the final week of March, 385,000 people submitted applications for unemployment benefits. That was 28,000 more than had filed in the prior week, and it greatly exceeded the expected figure of 350,000. According to an economist quoted by The Wall Street Journal, "Whether this is a genuine change in the trend or not, today's data will undoubtedly only compound fears that growth is slowing significantly again."

Alternatively, news that the Bank of Japan is initiating an aggressive policy of monetary easing spurred on the market's bulls. As I discussed earlier today, the Asian country's central bank is making good on its promise to achieve a 2% rate of inflation after two decades of persistent deflation. To reach its goal, it has committed to doubling its monetary base "with a time horizon of about two years." The news sunk the Japanese yen and sent the country's primary stock index higher.

The best-performing stock on the Dow this afternoon is AT&T (T 1.43%). As my colleague Dan Dzombak discussed earlier, rumors surfaced yesterday that the company may team up with its rival Verizon to buy Vodafone. Those rumors were subsequently denied. Today, however, Facebook introduced its new Facebook Home service, which will initially be featured exclusively on HTC phones offered by AT&T.

Alternatively, the worst-performing stock on the Dow is IBM (IBM 2.47%). As noted earlier by fellow Fool Jessica Alling, the company has been fighting to ward off concern over a recently released study suggesting that Oracle is outperforming Big Blue when it comes to new chips and servers -- two of IBM's strong suits.

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Stocks Mentioned

Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return) Stock Quote
Dow Jones Industrial Average (Price Return)
^DJI
$32,654.59 (1.34%) $431.17
International Business Machines Corporation Stock Quote
International Business Machines Corporation
IBM
$138.37 (2.47%) $3.34
AT&T Inc. Stock Quote
AT&T Inc.
T
$20.57 (1.43%) $0.29

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

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