(By Balachander) U.S. stocks ended in red after talks to avert the looming "fiscal cliff" appear to hit an impasse and a soft housing data also dented sentiment.
The S&P 500 Index retreated 0.76 percent to end at 1,435.81. The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 0.74 percent to finish at 13,251.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.33 percent to close at 3,044.36.
President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner are negotiating to address the so-called "fiscal cliff" of roughly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases set to begin in January.
Boehner has proposed a measure that allows tax increases only on those earning over $1 million, while Obama's offer would raise taxes on those making $400,000.
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Calling Boehner's "Plan B" proposal not balanced, the White House said on Wednesday the President would veto the legislation in the unlikely event of its passage.
"Plan B does nothing to address the other elements of the fiscal cliff, including the expiration of emergency unemployment insurance benefits, the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) for Medicare or the sequester," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said.
Boehner, meanwhile, reportedly urged Obama to "get serious" about a balanced approach to solve the cliff.
On the domestic data front, a report showed housing starts in the United States fell 3.0 percent to 861,000 for November, while economists' expected 873,000. Permits for future building construction rose 3.6 percent to 899,000, better than forecast of 875,000.
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In corporate news, FedEx Corp. (NYSE: FDX) reported better-than-expected revenue for the second quarter. The world's largest parcel-delivery company reported lower earnings for the same period, citing lower shipment volumes and higher operating costs because of Superstorm Sandy. Share closed 0.91 percent higher.
General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) jumped 6.63 percent after the auto giant plans to repurchase 200 million of its shares held by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for $5.5 billion, or $27.50 per share, a part of the government's plan to fully exit its investment in the company within the next 15 months.
Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL) rose 3.68 percent after the provider of enterprise software posted stronger-than-forecast quarterly results.
Navistar International Corp. (NYSE: NAV) retreated 8.45 percent after the truck maker posted a huge quarterly loss due to lower sales, higher costs and expenses, as well as a hefty income tax expense.
Knight Capital Group Inc. (NYSE: KCG) climbed 5.41 percent after the financial services company agreed to be acquired by Getco Holding Company LLC for about $1.4 billion.
Alterra Capital Holdings Ltd. (NASDAQ: ALTE) soared 21.73 percent after the insurer agreed to be acquired by rival Markel Corp. (NYSE: MKL) for around $3.13 billion, or $31 per share, in cash and stock.
Actuant Corp. (NYSE: ATU) dropped 7.60 percent after the maker of industrial products posted lower-than-forecast first-quarter earnings and offered a downbeat forecast.
Symmetricom Inc. (NASDAQ: SYMM) plunged 6.83 percent after the provider of network synchronization equipment slashed its second-quarter forecast, blaming lower-than-expected revenue from U.S. government and domestic communications service provider spending.
European markets ended on a positive note, with Germany's DAX up 0.19 percent to close at 7,668.50. France's CAC40 added 0.44 percent to finish at 3,664.59. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 gained 0.43 percent to end at 5,961.59.
Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index edged 0.01 percent lower to finish at 2,162.24. Japan's Nikkei 225 jumped 2.39 percent to close at 10,160.40. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index added 0.57 percent to end at 22,623.37. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,476, up 0.57 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures jumped 1.80 percent to $89.51 per barrel, while natural gas futures shed 2.40 percent to $3.34 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures inched 0.01 percent higher to $1,670.9 per ounce while silver futures fell 1.42 percent to $31.22 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro gained 0.09 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3241. The British pound slid 0.01 percent against the greenback to 1.6250, while the dollar advanced 0.26 percent against the Japanese yen to 84.4300.