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1. Fed Does Nothing and Says Little

By Marc Chandler
2:38 p.m. EST

The Federal Reserve maintained its key market-sensitive phrases about rates being kept low for an extended period of time, while recognizing the economy is picking up. One new twist is that the Fed for the first time recognized that the deterioration in the labor market is easing. The dollar initially sold off on that announcement, but the fact that it will continue to unwind its extraordinary liquidity provisions saw the dollar bounce back. The Fed explicitly stated that it expects most of the special liquidity provisions to end on Feb. 1, including the foreign-currency swap program. The end of the special liquidity facilities would seem to be a precondition to raising interest rates, to which the market is, of course, sensitive.

That said, the short end of the curve, which is most sensitive to Fed policy, looks little changed. Foreign exchange trading is choppy. The fact that interest rates haven't backed up and yet the dollar is better bid overall suggests this is still a thin, year-end market development more than the kind of fundamental-driven development I have been expecting.

Bernanke's confirmation vote is slated for tomorrow. The policy "betting" Web site Intrade suggests there is more than a 90% chance he will be reconfirmed.

The $1.4500 area in the euro is key. If this level goes another cent, we could quickly see a slide. On the other hand, a move above $1.4620 would help stabilize the euro tone. Sterling has been turned down from $1.6400, but support is not until the more distant $1.6200 area. Meanwhile, the dollar is flirting with the 90-yen area. Japanese exporters may see this as a new selling opportunity. The S&P 500 took an initial hit on the news, but appears to be stabilizing in well-worn area.

Position: None

2. Retail Sales Dropped

By Robert Marcin
1:42 p.m. EST

Retail sales dropped in November if one uses the seasonal-adjustment factor from 2006 or 2007.

Unadjusted retail sales were flat from October to November. But they should be up with Black Friday sales. So how could flat sales month on month generate a 1.3% gain?

They can't. But because of last year's collapse in November sales, the seasonal-adjustment factor shows that as typical and adjusts flat sales to up. Presto, government statisticians at work.

If one uses the same seasonal-adjustment factors that were in place for 2006 and 2007, November 2009 retail sales declined 1.3% vs. October, according to John Williams's ShadowStats service. This makes sense.

There is also the same factor at work with respect to the employment data: numbers skewed by the Lehman collapse last year inflating this year's data via last year's atypical seasonal adjustments.

If you're buying stocks on government data, be careful. Last year's unique collapse is giving way to factors that overstate economic activity now.

Position: none

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3. CPI Thoughts

By Tim Melvin
1:51 p.m. EST

I wish I could live ex food and energy. Then I would never have to worry about inflation. Reading through the CPI report shows me that almost everything went up in price. Medical care, airplane rides as well as food and go-juice, all went up in price. The only real weakness was in real-estate and housing costs. Gas and electricity prices were higher as well. So, while the price of my house declines, the cost of everything else is rising.

This may be good news between the rivers and inside the Beltway, but I have a hard time seeing how this report is good for the rest of us.

Position: none

4. Knocking at the Door

By Dan Fitzpatrick
11:17 a.m. EST

I'm generally not so "micro" in my commentary here, but


(GOOG) - Get Report

continues to bang away at the obvious selling level of $600.

My take is that few traders will decide to sell at $601. The limit orders are typically placed at the even figure -- here, $600. As such, we're watching GOOG pretty closely for a breakout above $600 as the signal that supply created by limit-sell orders has been absorbed and demand for more stock remains. The wild card is options expiration tomorrow, with the bulk of call option open interest at the $600 strike. That's a magnet of unknown strength.

I'll admit that I am biased because I am long. But my admitted bias doesn't change the analysis.

Position: Long GOOG

5. Microsoft -- not just EU catalyst

By Brian Gilmartin
11:11 a.m. EST


(MSFT) - Get Report

has punched through $30 today on what the financial media is detailing as a favorable EU ruling, but the comScore data from last night also showed its search engine Bing with 10.3% market share, its highest since Sept 2007.

MSFT has been on fire since reporting in October quarterly earnings that handily beat estimates. With Bing gaining share (probably from



) MSFT finally has a little tailwind, with the positive reception for Windows 7.

The last time MSFT punched through $30 was May 2008, or the rally that followed the Bear Stearns bailout. However, only when MSFT breaks above its $35 high from late 2007 will it leave behind the consolidation it has been in since the year 2000.

Position: Long MSFT, GOOG

This article was written by a staff member of