(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed on a sharply lower note amid lingering concerns about the looming fiscal cliff and eurozone worries hurt sentiment. Also contributing to the weakness were reports that Israel launched an air strike in the Gaza Strip today, killing the head of the military wing of the Islamist group Hamas.
The S&P 500 Index retreated 1.39 percent to end at 1,355.49. The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished at 12,571.26, down 1.45 percent. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 1.29 percent to close at 2,846.81.
President Barack Obama pushed for higher taxes on wealthy Americans to address the so-called fiscal cliff of roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases that could hit economic growth.
"A modest tax increase on the wealthy is not going to break their backs," Obama said in his first news conference since his re-election. "They'll still be wealthy."
"A number of participants indicated that additional asset purchases would likely be appropriate next year after the conclusion of the maturity extension program in order to achieve a substantial improvement in the labor market," minutes of FOMC's Oct. 23-24 policy meeting showed. The rate-setting committee of the Federal Reserve noted that economic activity continued to increase at a moderate pace in recent months. The unemployment rate declined but was still elevated.
In U.S. economic data, the Commerce Department reported retail sales fell 0.3 percent and core retail sales was unchanged for October due to superstorm Sandy, with both figures missing economists expectations of a 0.2 percent rise. Core retail sales measures the change in the total value of sales at the retail level in the U.S., excluding automobiles.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department said core producer price index in October unexpectedly fell 0.2 percent, as economists expected a 0.1 percent increase. The headline index also declined 0.2 percent, versus estimate of a rise of 0.2 percent. In September, core producer prices was unchanged.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: CSCO, ANF, FB, IAG, SBUX, TEA, ZNGA, SPLS
In corporate news, Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) reported a 18 percent increase in quarterly earnings on strong sales growth and lower expenses. Results exceeded Wall Street expectations, sending its shares up 4.84 percent.
Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE: ANF) spiked 34.45 percent after the apparel retailer reported a 40.5 percent jump in quarterly earnings on higher sales it raised 2012 profit view above consensus.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) surged 12.56 percent as the social-networking company's lockup provisions on more than 800 million shares expired on Wednesday. The social networking site has launched an application that allows recruiters to share positions.
IAMGOLD Corp. (NYSE: IAG) retreated 19.45 percent after the Canadian miner posted lower third-quarter results that missed market expectations.
Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ: ZNGA) added 1.90 percent. The social gaming company announced CFO David Wehner is leaving the company today to pursue a senior finance position at Facebook.
Teavana Holdings Inc. (NYSE: TEA) spiked 52.52 percent after the retailer of loose-leaf teas agreed to be acquired by Starbucks Corp. (NASDAQ: SBUX) for roughly $620 million in cash. SBUX shed 2.82 percent.
Staples Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLS) added 2.62 percent after the office products company's non-GAAP earnings for the third quarter beat expectations.
Nu Skin Enterprises Inc. (NYSE: NUS) forecast higher earnings and revenue for 2013 and the provider of anti-aging products agreed to acquire NOX Technologies Inc., a biodiagnostic company, for $12.5 million. Shares fell 4.64 percent.
European markets ended lower, with Germany's DAX off 0.94 percent to close at 7,101.92. France's CAC40 fell 0.89 percent to finish at 3,400.02. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 retreated 1.11 percent to end at 5,722.01.
Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index gained 0.37 percent to finish at 2,055.42. Japan's Nikkei 225 inched up 0.04 percent to end at 8,664.73. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index advanced 1.20 percent to end at 21,441.99. India's BSE Sensex was shut for a holiday.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures added 0.98 percent to $86.22 per barrel, and natural gas futures rose 0.51 percent to $3.76 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures inched up 0.09 percent to $1,726.4 per ounce and silver futures gained 0.55 percent to $32.67 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro rose 0.24 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.2734. The British pound dipped 0.18 percent against the greenback to 1.5842, while the dollar jumped 1.08 percent against the Japanese yen at 80.2400.