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Stocks Seeing Modest Weakness Amid Fiscal Cliff Worries - U.S. Commentary


Stocks have moved modestly lower over the course of the trading day on Thursday after initially showing a lack of direction. Lingering concerns about the looming fiscal cliff are weighing on the markets despite a batch of largely upbeat economic data.

The major averages moved roughly sideways in recent trading, stuck modestly below the unchanged line. The Dow is down 24.96 points or 0.2 percent at 13,220.49, the Nasdaq is down 7.85 points or 0.3 percent at 3,005.96 and the S&P 500 is down 3.49 points or 0.2 percent at 1,424.99.

The modest weakness on Wall Street comes as lawmakers in Washington continue to struggle to reach an agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, once again accused President Barack Obama of failing to provide a serious offer, claiming that the White House is not offering enough in spending cuts.

Boehner has made similar remarks for several days, while Democrats continue to attack the GOP for being unwilling to accept higher tax rates on wealthy Americans.

The worries about the fiscal cliff have overshadowed some upbeat economic data, including a report from the Labor Department showing that weekly jobless claims pulled back near a four-year low.

The report showed that jobless claims fell to 343,000 in the week ended December 8th, a decrease of 29,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 372,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to come in unchanged compared to the 370,000 originally reported for the previous week.

With the unexpected decrease, jobless claims fell to their lowest level since dropping to a four-year low of 342,000 in the week ended October 6th.

A separate report from the Commerce Department showed weaker than expected retail sales growth in the month of November, although a sharp drop in sales by gas stations offset strength in other sectors.

The report showed that retail sales increased by 0.3 percent in November following a 0.3 percent decrease in October. Economists had been expecting retail sales to increase by about 0.6 percent.

Excluding a 4.0 percent drop in sales by gas stations, retail sales rose by 0.8 percent in November compared to a 0.5 percent drop in October.

Traders also continue to digest yesterday's news that the Federal Reserve plans to replace its "Operation Twist" program, which expires at the end of the year, with the purchase of longer-term Treasury securities at a pace of $45 billion per month.

Sector News

While many of the major sectors continue to show only modest moves, considerable weakness is visible among gold stocks. The NYSE Arca Gold Bugs Index is down by 2.1 percent, nearly offsetting the strong gain posted in the previous session.

The weakness among gold stocks comes amid a notable decrease by the price of the precious metal, with gold for February delivery sliding $17.80 to $1,700.10 an ounce.

Oil service, biotechnology, and natural gas stocks are seeing more moderate weakness, although selling pressure remains subdued.

Meanwhile, airline and networking stocks continue to see some strength on the day, with the NYSE Arca Networking Index and the NYSE Arca Airline Index both up by 1 percent.

Other Markets

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region turned in a mixed performance during trading on Thursday. While Japan's Nikkei 225 Index surged up by 1.7 percent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell by 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets all moved to the downside on the day. The French CAC 40 Index edged down by 0.1 percent, while the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index and the German DAX Index dipped 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries are seeing modest weakness, extending the downward move seen following yesterday's Fed announcement. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is up by 2.3 basis points at 1.72 percent.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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