(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed in red as continued uncertainty about the looming "fiscal cliff" offset a set of positive economic data.
The S&P 500 Index retreated 0.63 percent to end at 1,419.46. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.56 percent to finish at 13,170.72. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.72 percent to close at 2,992.16.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner said the White House appears willing to "slow-walk" the economy right up to the fiscal cliff.
Investors also weighed remarks by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the so-called "fiscal cliff". "We cannot offset the full impact of the fiscal cliff - it's just too big," Bernanke told a news conference on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama has pushed for higher taxes on wealthy Americans to address the fiscal cliff of roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases that could hit economic growth.
On the data front, the number of Americans who continued to receive jobless benefits declined last week, a government data showed. Jobless claims fell 29,000 to 343,000 for the week ended Dec. 8.
The Commerce Department reported retail sales increased 0.3 percent and core retail sales were unchanged for November. Economists expected a 0.1 percent drop in sales on a core basis. 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 November rose 0.1 percent, while economists expected a 0.2 percent increase. The headline index declined 0.8 percent, sharper that expectations of a drop of 0.5 percent.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: BBY, CVS, CLWR, MET, SAM, LSCC, HRG, SCTY
In corporate news, Best Buy Co. Inc. (NYSE: BBY) surged 15.93 percent. Founder Richard Schulze is expected to make a formal takeover offer for the consumer electronics giant this week, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
Sprint Nextel Corp. (NYSE: S) has offered to acquire shares in Clearwire Corp. (NASDAQ: CLWR) it does not already own for $2.90 per share, a regulatory filing showed. Clearwire shares jumped 14.91 percent.
CVS Caremark Corp. (NYSE: CVS) added 2.06 percent after the pharmacy services provider issued its 2013 earnings forecast and raised its quarterly dividend by about 38 percent.
Boston Beer Co. (NYSE: SAM) jumped 15.50 percent after the craft brewer lifted its earnings view for 2012, citing stronger shipments.
Metlife Inc. (NYSE: MET) expects full-year 2012 operating earnings to increase 19 percent, though it forecast 2013 operating profit to be lower than this year. Shares lost 2.32 percent.
Lattice Semiconductor (NASDAQ: LSCC) tumbled 8.98 percent after the developer of programmable logic products lowered its revenue outlook for the fourth quarter, citing weakness in the communications market.
Harbinger Group Inc. (NYSE: HRG) plunged 26.61 percent after the diversified holding company announced secondary public offering of 20 million shares has been priced at $7.50 per share, a discount of 27 percent to the stock's previous closing price.
SolarCity Corp. (NASDAQ: SCTY) spiked nearly 57 percent in its public debut after the developer of residential solar energy systems priced its initial public offering (IPO) of 11.50 million shares at $8.00 apiece.
European markets ended in red, with Germany's DAX down 0.43 percent to close at 7,581.98. France's CAC40 edged 0.10 percent lower to finish at 3,643.13. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 fell 0.27 percent to end at 5,929.61.
Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index dropped 1.02 percent to finish at 2,061.48. Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 1.68 percent to close at 9,742.73. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index shed 0.26 percent to end at 22,445.58. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,229.26, down 0.65 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures dropped 0.66 percent to $86.20 per barrel, and natural gas futures fell 1.18 percent to $3.34 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures lost 1.12 percent to $1,698.5 per ounce and silver futures retreated 3.47 percent to $32.61 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro inched up 0.02 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3077. The British pound fell 0.24 percent against the greenback to 1.6111, while the dollar added 0.43 percent against the Japanese yen to 83.6200.