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Unemployment Claims fell more than expected, but so did consumer confidence. What did the market make of either of these? Hard to tell. We're all tuned into the Fiscal Cliff soap opera, with government actors giving the market its cues.

The S&P 500 hit its intraday high in the first fifteen minutes of trading yesterday and then started a slow decline that didn't accelerate with the bad consumer confidence number at 10 AM. But when Senator Reid commented that we're headed for the cliff, the index nosedived for 10 minutes and then continued the earlier pace of decline to its 1:35 PM intraday low, off 1.29%. That was when Senator Scott Brown said that Obama had made another budget offer, a claim that was shot down 40 minutes later. But the trend reversed shortly after 2:30 PM, when Boehner announced that the House would reconvene on Sunday. The index actually popped into the green in the last five minutes of the day before slipping to its 0.12% loss for the day.

Here is a 5-minute chart of today's soap opera.

(click to enlarge)

The S&P 500 is now up 12.76% for 2012 but 3.25% below the interim closing high of September 14th.

From a longer-term perspective, the index is 109.6% above the March 2009 closing low and 9.4% below the nominal all-time high of October 2007.

(click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

For a better sense of how these declines figure into a larger historical context, here's a long-term view of secular bull and bear markets in the S&P Composite since 1871.