The Dow's Low-Priced Winners Couldn't Save Stocks


Today's 24-point drop for the Dow Jones Industrials (INDEX: ^DJI) comes as no big surprise to those following the fiscal cliff debate in Washington. With a lack of progress toward coming together on a trillion-dollar accord to raise tax revenue and cut government spending, investors finally look like they may be getting impatient. Yet despite relatively light post-holiday trading activity, the market's movements have been quite muted.

One peculiarity of the Dow is that as a price-weighted average, stocks with low share prices don't have much impact on the Dow. So when the three lowest-priced stocks in the Dow were all winners today, it's important to remember that their collective gains were more than wiped out by UnitedHealth's (NYS: UNH) 1% decline in the face of uncertainty about the fiscal cliff's potential impact on the health insurer.

For instance, Bank of America (NYS: BAC) was the big winner in the Dow today, but its gain amounted to just $0.29 per share. As the top performer in the Dow in 2012, B of A has already doubled in price this year, and with positive news from the Case-Shiller index of home prices showing gains of 4.3% over the past year, the bank's mortgage portfolio could see its overall quality improve simply from better overall market conditions.

Alcoa's (NYS: AA) 1.3% gain was just an $0.11 move in share price. A positive report from Bloomberg pointed to the possibility that even though aluminum supplies remain extremely high, prices of the lightweight metal could nevertheless rise. Given how much Alcoa has suffered from low aluminum prices in recent years, any sign of perking up for the market tends to ignite investors' hopes.

Finally, Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) also picked up $0.11 per share, or 0.8%. Value investors have tried to pick a bottom for the beleaguered tech stock for some time, but as the end of the year approaches, the stock has faced stronger resistance after its roughly 20% gains from recent lows. What investors really need to see is a viable plan from HP before they can fairly assess whether it could be the next big turnaround story.

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HP is trying to become one of the least-appreciated turnaround stories in the stock market, but its latest efforts could end up merely being a minor blip on its road to irrelevance. Find out more about HP's challenges and opportunities by reading what The Motley Fool's technology analyst has to say in his new premium research report. Just click here now to get your copy today.

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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. You can follow him on Twitter @DanCaplinger. The Motley Fool owns shares of Bank of America. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend UnitedHealth Group. 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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