Costco, the wholesale club operator, surged $6.07 to $102.58 after the company said it would pay a special dividend of $7 a share next month, in addition to its regular quarterly dividend. Las Vegas Sands Corp. rose 5.3 percent Tuesday after the casino operator said it would distribute about $2.26 billion to shareholders before the end of the year. It rose another 1.3 percent Wednesday, gaining 60 cents to $49.96.
With the market's attention focused on the outcome of the "cliff" negotiations, some investors caution that the weakness in third-quarter corporate earnings bode poorly for the stock market.
"Think of corporate earnings as the canary in the coal mine," said Douglas Cote, chief market strategist at ING U.S. Investment Management. "Corporations are the first ones to signal that there is something going on with economic growth around the world."
Company earnings fell 0.9 percent in the third quarter, data provider FactSet said in a report Nov. 23. If they earning finish the period lower, it would mark the first decline in three years.
In economic news, U.S. sales of new homes dipped 0.3 percent in October, though they're up 20.4 percent for the year, according to a government report. Stable home prices suggest the housing market is steadily recovering.
A pickup in consumer spending and steady home sales helped lift economic growth in October and early November in most parts of the United States, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book survey released Wednesday. The one exception was the Northeast, which was slowed by Superstorm Sandy.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.63 percent from 1.64 percent.
Among stocks making big moves:
— Green Mountain Coffee Roasters surged $7.91, or 27.3 percent, to $36.86 after the beleaguered coffee company reported strong fourth-quarter results and issued earnings and revenue forecasts that far exceeded the market's expectations.
—Fresh Market Inc. plunged $7.46, or 12 percent, to $52.78, after the company's fiscal third-quarter profit fell short of analysts' expectations.