Why the Dow's Sliding Today

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On this last trading day of the year, investors appear to be getting an early start to their New Year's festivities. Volume was extremely low, extending a streak of weak activity throughout the holiday week. The big mover for the day was gold, where February gold futures contracts posted a $36 gain to $1,577 per ounce, reversing a long slump that's lasted throughout December to close the year with a gain of about 8%. As for stocks, around 1:30 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) were down 36 points to 12,251, while the S&P 500 was down two points to 1,261.

Leading the gainers was Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , up just less than 1%. A recently unsealed letter gave details of former CEO Mark Hurd's alleged sexual harassment toward an HP independent contractor, turning investors' attention back to Hurd's controversial departure in 2010. Home Depot (NYS: HD) is also up today, finishing off a strong year for the home improvement retailer that highlights investor hopes that housing may finally have hit bottom.

On the downside, energy stocks fell slightly, with Chevron (NYS: CVX) down 0.7% and ExxonMobil (NYS: XOM) falling 0.4%. Oil prices were little changed, hanging just below the key $100 level but posting about a 9% gain for 2011. Chevron got bad news as Brazil imposed a third fine on the company following a November oil spill off the South American nation's coast. Meanwhile, Russia imposed a budget cut of more than 11% on the Exxon-led Sakhalin-1 oil project for 2012. Kraft Foods (NYS: KFT) posted the day's worst loss so far of about 0.9% as of early afternoon, and McDonald's (NYS: MCD) was off 0.3% as it finished 2011 as the Dow's biggest gainer for the year.

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At the time this article was published Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter here. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of The Home Depot, Chevron, and McDonald's. 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 Fool has a disclosure policy.

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