Today: Apple's (AAPL) rebound and the economy push Wall Street to gains, but politicians' tough talk on "fiscal cliff" evens out the gains to cap a poor week. Also: Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Intel (INTC) and Groupon struggle mightily.
Apple bounces back, helping to offset 'fiscal cliff' concerns
Wall Street managed to avoid losses Friday after two straight days of postelection declines, thanks to Apple's bounceback day, but hardline stances from politicians on the "fiscal cliff" kept stocks from advancing enough to avoid a bad week.
The three major indexes traded up slightly, with the Dow Jones basically flat and Apple's gain of 1.7 percent helping the Standard & Poor's 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index to bigger gains of 0.2 percent and 0.3 percent, respectively. Apple has been struggling since the late-September launch of the iPhone 5, and is still in "bear market" territory after a 20 percent dip in less than two months.
Investors pushed stocks higher in the morning session after economic reports showed that the United States likely performed better in the summer quarter than previously reported, but those larger losses dissipated after politicians forcefully reminded Americans of their stark differences on the "fiscal cliff." The term refers to automatic tax hikes and spending cuts that will take effect if Congress does not step in to provide a new plan.
House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, spoke to the media and reiterated that his party would not allow taxes to be increased in any matter, while President Barack Obama, in his first speech since winning the election Tuesday night, said that any solution must include tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans.
As Obama was speaking, stock gains began to disappear, leading to the flat finish.
"It looked like some bipartisanship is degrading to posturing and brinkmanship," Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multiasset investments for ING Investment Management, told the Wall Street Journal. "We need to have a compromise. Anything that makes traders think politicians are digging their heels in will lead to selling."
Obama invited congressional leaders to the White House next week to hash out their differences and find a negotiated solution, but few feel that will be the end of the debate. With less than two months until the drastic measures take effect, which the Congressional Budget Office says would send the country into another recession, the conventional wisdom has politicians using all of that time to fight for their own beliefs.
With Tuesday's election ensuring that the balance of power -- Republicans in charge of the House, Democrats leading the Senate and occupying the White House -- would remain the same as when the debt ceiling debates severely damaged stocks and caused a downgrade to U.S. debt, investors are already selling off equities, so further bickering and delays could damage stocks for the rest of the year.
"It could well be the conventional U.S. political way of doing it -- the last minute type of stuff -- in which case the markets will be haunted by it until the point it happens," Chris Bertelsen, the chief investment officer at Global Financial Private Capital, told the Associated Press.
For the week, the Dow dropped 2.1 percent, the S&P declined 2.3 percent, and the Nasdaq descended 2.6 percent.
Wall Street weakness continues for Hewlett-Packard, Intel
While Apple managed to bounce back from recent stock doldrums for a solid increase Friday, two other Silicon Valley bellwethers continued to struggle. Hewlett-Packard closed at a decade-low price and Intel hit a 52-week low for the third consecutive day.
The two companies are firmly entrenched in the personal computer industry, which has suffered as Apple has pushed mobile devices to the forefront of computer use. Intel's chips are widely used in Windows-powered personal computers, of which Palo Alto-based HP is the largest manufacturer.
Intel was damaged this week when Bloomberg News reported that Apple is considering dumping the company's chips from its Mac line of computers in favor of its own chips, which currently power its mobile devices. The move would leave Intel even more dependent on the struggling PC industry.
Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, is having trouble maintaining its lead in the industry, with a recent report saying that Lenovo is now selling more PCs that the Silicon Valley mainstay. CEO Meg Whitman is attempting to find profits elsewhere, such as in its software business, but the makeover will take years.
The two companies are partners, announcing a new line of Itanium servers and chips this week, but neither is finding investors willing to believe they will bounce back from their current doldrums. Both stocks closed at or near their lowest prices of the trading session: Intel fell 0.1 percent to $20.80 and Hewlett-Packard declined 1.5 percent to $13.61, a penny higher than the decade-low intraday price.
Groupon tanks after earnings report in bad day for social stocks
Even LinkedIn, the most stable stock in the young technology realm, continued to suffer from the weakness exhibited by one of its largest competitors, Monster Worldwide. After closing lower than $100 a share for the first time in months Thursday, the Mountain View professional-networking company declined another 0.7 percent to close at $95.62 Friday.
The biggest struggles belonged to Chicago daily deals originator Groupon, however. The company's stock fell as low as $2.71 Friday before closing at $2.76, a whopping 29.6 percent decline. The company's fall from graces has been even more stark than Zynga, the San Francisco social gaming company that closed Friday $2.12 after its initial public offering sold shares at $10. Groupon sold IPO shares at $20 apiece and is trading just barely above Zynga's price.
Facebook also continued its weeklong plunge, declining 3.9 percent to $19.21.
Silicon Valley tech stocks
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 9.29, or 0.32 percent, to 2,904.87
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 4.07, or 0.03 percent, to 12,815.39
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 2.34, or 0.17 percent, to 1,379.85
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.