Tech Stocks Struggle to Buoy Dow


Stocks have oscillated between positive and negative territory as traders continue to complain of uncertainty in the market. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently up just two points as of 2:50 p.m. EST, this is bound to change on a moment's notice, given the absence of a margin of safety.

The biggest issue weighing on stocks continues to be uncertainty surrounding the fiscal cliff. As I noted earlier today, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan told CNBC this morning that business spending has already been hurt by the logjam in Washington and that a failure to reach a deal by the end of the year could cause a mild recession and even impact business investment decisions for 2014.

The President has made it clear that there will be no deal unless the Republicans drop their opposition to higher tax rates. In an interview with Bloomberg News, President Obama said that, "We're going to have to see the rates on the top 2 percent go up, and we're not going to be able to get a deal without it." Thus far, the Republicans, led by House Speaker John Boehner, have been stubborn to budge on tax rates, though they've signaled a willingness to break their controversial pledge never to do so.

With respect to individual companies, shares of Wells Fargo are trading lower despite the fact that CEO John Stumpf expressed his desire to increase the amount of capital the bank returns to its shareholders. This is one of the three reasons I said investors may want to invest in the nation's largest mortgage originator. To learn about the other two, click here.

Luxury homebuilder Toll Brothers released its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings today. For the three-month time period, the company earned $411 million, or $2.35 per share, though that included a $351 million net tax benefit. The EPS figure was sharply higher than in the same period of 2011, soundly beating analyst estimates for $0.23 per share.

Shares of closeout retailer Big Lots are up sharply today after the company reported fiscal third-quarter earnings of $0.10 per share versus a consensus estimate of a $0.24 per-share loss. In addition, the company's CEO, Steven Fishman, announced his decision to resign after eight years at the helm. Fishman came under fire this past April after he sold more than $10 million in Big Lots stock only a month before the company surprised investors by reporting a decrease in first-quarter sales. Following the earning release, shares in the company lost nearly 25% in one day.

The best-performing stocks on the Dow today are technology companies, which are led higher by Hewlett-Packard and Intel . It's no exaggeration to say that these two companies have been beaten down by investors this year: Their stocks are lower by 52% and 20%, respectively, since the beginning of the year. Investors continue to worry about the impact of slowing personal-computer sales. For the day, shares in HP are up 4.3%, while Intel's have climbed by 2.2%.

The rally in Intel's stock, at least, is likely attributable to its announcement today that it will be selling bonds to fund more share buybacks. And the movement in HP's stock appears to be a continuation of its shares' heightened volatility following its most recent quarterly earnings release, during which it announced an $8.8 billion charge-off stemming from its acquisition of Autonomy. To read more about Intel, check out this article. And for a recent take on HP, click here.

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John Maxfield owns shares of Bank of America and Intel. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America, Intel, and Wells Fargo & Company. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Intel and Wells Fargo & Company. 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 Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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