(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed higher as investors await developments of negotiations in Washington to avert the looming "fiscal cliff" and a set of positive economic data also weighed on the sentiment.
The S&P 500 Index added 0.55 percent to end at 1,443.69. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.45 percent to finish at 13,311.72. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.20 percent to close at 3,050.39.
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.
The White House has already threatened to veto a proposal presented by Boehner. Republicans will vote on Boehner's plan that allows tax increases on those earning over $1 million.
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On the data front, a report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed real gross domestic product rose at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the third quarter, better than expectations for a growth of 2.8 percent. GDP measures the annualized change in the inflation-adjusted value of all goods and services produced by the economy.
The number of Americans who continued to receive jobless benefits rose more than expected last week, a government data showed. Jobless claims increased 17,000 to 361,000 for the week ended Dec. 15 from a revised 344,000, while economists projected 357,000 applications.
The National Association of Realtors reported that existing home sales for November jumped 5.9 percent to 5.04 million from 4.76 million, reaching a three-year high.
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The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's manufacturing index showed a positive reading of 8.1 in December, a sharp improvement from a negative 10.7 in November.
The Conference Board's U.S. leading economic indicators index fell 0.2 percent in November after a revised 0.3 percent rise in October.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: NYX, DRI, CCL, BBBY, KMX, RAD, KBH, JBL, ELOQ, MDRX, GBX, ARII
In corporate news, IntercontinentalExchange (NYSE: ICE) agreed to acquire NYSE Euronext (NYSE: NYX) for $33.12 per share, or a total of about $8.2 billion in a stock-and-cash transaction. NYX shares spiked 34.10 percent.
Darden Restaurants Inc. (NYSE: DRI) shed 2.86 percent after the restaurant operator posted a 38 percent drop in quarterly earnings amid a 2.7 percent decline in same-restaurant sales at its three casual dining brands and higher expenses.
Carnival Corp. (NYSE: CCL) retreated 5.27 percent after the cruise company guided 2013 below consensus following lower earnings and revenue for the fourth quarter.
Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. (NASDAQ: BBBY) lost 6.47 percent after the retailer of home products posted third-quarter revenue that trailed market expectations and issued a downbeat forecast.
CarMax Inc. (NYSE: KMX) gained 8.98 percent after the retailer of used cars reported a 15 percent growth in quarterly earnings and sales, topping market expectations.
Eloqua Inc. (NASDAQ: ELOQ) spiked 32.03 percent after the provider of revenue performance management software agreed to be acquired by Oracle Corp. (NASDAQ: ORCL) for $23.50 a share. The deal represents a 31.1 percent premium to Eloqua's previous closing price.
Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD) jumped 16.35 percent after the Camp Hill, Pennsylvania-based drugstore chain lifted its forecast for 2013 following a surprise profit for the third quarter boosted by continued front end sales and prescription count growth/
Jabil Circuit Inc. (NYSE: JBL) jumped 7.43 percent after electronic manufacturing services company reported better-than-expected first-quarter results and issued an upbeat earnings guidance.
Allscripts Healthcare Solutions Inc. (NASDAQ: MDRX) tumbled 14.42 percent after the company dropped plans to sell itself. The company named Paul Black as CEO, replacing Glen Tullman.
KB Home (NYSE: KBH) slumped 6.36 percent after the company reported a lower profit for the fourth quarter, though the homebuilder's revenue grew in double digits, spurred by a rise in the number of homes delivered and a higher average selling price.
Greenbrier Companies Inc. (NYSE: GBX) dropped 11.89 percent. Bloomberg reported that shares of the railcar maker fell the most in seven weeks amid investor worries an increased bid for the company may fall through. American Railcar (ARII), controlled by billionaire-investor Carl Icahn, raised its offer to $22 per share from $20 a share for GBX. ARII shares plunged 8.03 percent.
European markets ended on a mixed note, with Germany's DAX inching up 0.05 percent to close at 7,672.10. France's CAC40 added 0.06 percent to finish at 3,666.73. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 slid 0.05 percent to end at 5,958.34.
Among Asian markets, China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index added 0.28 percent to finish at 2,168.35. Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 1.19 percent to close at 10,039.33. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.16 percent to end at 22,659.78. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,453, down 0.11 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures dropped 0.08 percent to $89.90 per barrel, while natural gas futures climbed 3.98 percent to $3.45 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures fell 1.15 percent to $1,648.6 per ounce and silver futures tumbled 3.65 percent to $29.98 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro gained 0.14 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3245. The British pound added 0.20 percent against the greenback to 1.6280, while the dollar remained unchanged against the Japanese yen at 84.4100.