Can the Dow Get Out of Neutral?

For the third straight day, the stock market opened without any clear direction. On one hand, the European crisis seems to have entered at least a temporary quiet period, removing one of the biggest contributors of downward pressure on the market. Yet plenty of economic worries persist, with the latest unhappy news coming from the Philadelphia Fed survey, and the uncertainty of the presidential election in less than three months has investors on edge. Just before 10:45 a.m. EDT, though, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) finally picked up some steam and was up 33 points.

Among Dow stocks, Wal-Mart (NYS: WMT) was the big loser, down 3.5% after its quarterly report disappointed investors. Although earnings and same-store sales gains beat analyst expectations, revenue came in below projections, and lower operating margins have shareholders concerned about the quality of its earnings going forward. Still, after a long run higher, even a significant decline like today's may only be a short-term correction.

On the other side of the spectrum was Cisco Systems (NAS: CSCO) , which soared almost 8%. The company beat earnings estimates by a penny, but more importantly, investors seem to have more confidence in CEO John Chambers and his strategies to streamline operations and cut prices in an effort to fight back against competitors Juniper Networks (NYS: JNPR) and others. Although Europe will continue to represent a challenge, Cisco also boosted its dividend by 75%.

Finally, Home Depot (NYS: HD) rose almost 1% to set another new high going back to 2000. Building from its own earnings beat earlier this week, the home improvement giant looks poised to benefit from increasing signs of health in the housing market. Those calls have proven premature before, but Home Depot has continued to execute well and has shareholders confident about its future prospects.

Put your portfolio in drive
To be a winning long-term investor, you'll have to put up with some flat periods for the stocks you own. But the best companies eventually prove their value. Find out about some great prospects in The Motley Fool's special report on the Dow, where you'll find three Dow stocks with both promising growth potential and strong dividends.

The article Can the Dow Get Out of Neutral? originally appeared on

Fool contributor Dan Caplinger doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of Cisco Systems. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Home Depot. 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.

Copyright © 1995 - 2012 The Motley Fool, LLC. All rights reserved. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.