This Is the Reason the S&P 500 Went for a Wild Ride


Disneyland has Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, and the S&P 500 had its very own wild ride today, thanks to comments made by various members of Congress, and mixed economic data.

Things looked bleak for investors earlier in the day when Senate Majority Leader Dem.- Harry Reid proclaimed that the U.S. was "headed over the fiscal cliff." With a deal seeming unlikely, the news that U.S. consumer confidence fell to a four-month low didn't sit well with investors. However, a late day announcement that Congress will reconvene on Sunday, as well as a boost in the rate of annual new homes sales, sent the indexes screaming off their lows.

On the day, the S&P 500 finished lower by just 1.73 (-0.12%), after having been down more than 1% earlier, to end at 1,418.10. The loss marks the S&P 500's fourth straight decline.

Leading to the downside were retailer J.C. Penney , off 6%, and steelmaker U.S. Steel , shedding 2.6%; both had bucked the downtrend in the past few days.

The impetus for the drop is pretty simple, even if both companies are in markedly different sectors: A jump in taxes is likely to remove discretionary spending from consumers' budgets, which is likely to result in a slowdown in sales of everything from apparel to homes. The fiscal cliff is a particularly tender issue for these two companies, because they're both in the midst of trying to execute a turnaround in their operations. A dramatic slowdown in U.S. GDP growth could effectively squash their strategies.

Trying their best to give the S&P 500 a boost were online travel site Expedia , up 4.1%, and security systems provider ADT , up 2.6%.

As you can see, the melting pot of sector movers continued with these gainers. But, the two companies also share a similarity in that they both have demonstrated a financial resilience to the potential for an economic downturn. Expedia's international expansion has boosted growth and reduced its reliance on domestic travel revenue. Similarly, you might expect a reduction in consumer spending to impact security systems, but ADT has shown that its security systems are quite resilient to a drop in consumer confidence.

Is this the next retail fail?
J.C. Penney has been a train wreck whose comeback always seems just around the next earnings corner, but people are beginning to doubt if CEO Ron Johnson can weave the same magic that he did at Apple. For investors wondering whether J.C. Penney is a buy today, you're invited to claim a copy of The Motley Fool's new must-read report on the company. Learn everything you need to know about JCP's turnaround - or lack thereof - and, as an added bonus, you'll receive a full year of expert guidance and updates as key news develops. Simply click here now for instant access.

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