Alcoa Inc (AA) Weighs on a Sluggish Dow: Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT), Caterpillar Inc. (CAT)

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Is It The Time to Buy Alcoa (AA)?The market’s crawling back up toward its record highs today, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average 2 Minute (Dow Jones Indices:.DJI) is just above breakeven, having picked up four points as of 2:25 p.m. EDT. Stocks are fairly evenly split between risers and fallers, but not a single member of the Dow his moved more than 1% today. Let’s get caught up on what you need to know.

Sales rise, but stocks won’t budge
The retail sector kicked off the day when the Department of Commerce reported that retail sales climbed 1.1% last month. As gas prices increase and the payroll tax hike hits consumers’ budgets, an uptick in retail despite those hurdles is a testament to the strength of the recovering economy. The number is slightly skewed due to the higher gas prices — spending at gas stations alone jumped 5% — but even without that number, retail spending still rose 0.6%.

Retail stocks on the Dow didn’t so much as lift a finger in response, however. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) has picked up just 0.2% on the day, while The Home Depot, Inc. (NYSE:HD) has gained a few cents. The positive retail numbers come as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT) struggles with sales; one vice president at the company said halfway through February that month’s early sales were the worst he had seen in his seven years at the company. The dismal results haven’t shaken Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (NYSE:WMT)’s stock, which has picked up more than 6% since the start of the year, but it’s a worrying indicator that tightened consumer wallets are dragging on the big retailer’s top line.

Today’s biggest losers come from the industrial sector. Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT) and Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) haven’t lost much today, but compared to the rest of the slow-moving Dow, their respective losses of 0.4% and 1% rank among the bottom of the index. Neither stock has joined in the market’s bull run to start the year: Even as the Dow has hit record highs, Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE:CAT) and Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA) have both seen shares fall more than 4% to start 2013.

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