(By Balachander) U.S. stocks ended sharply lower as a continuing impasse on talks in Washington to avert the looming "fiscal cliff" dented sentiment.
The S&P 500 Index retreated 0.93 percent to end at 1,430.29. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.89 percent to finish at 13,192.61. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 0.96 percent to close at 3,021.01.
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 Boehner proposal, which allows tax increases on those earning over $1 million.
Boehner tax plan failed to get support from his party on Thursday. "The House did not take up the tax measure today because it did not have sufficient support from our members to pass," Boehner said in a statement late Thursday.
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On the data front, durable-goods orders for November rose 0.7 percent, versus economists expectations of an increase of 0.2 percent. New orders - excluding transportation - unexpectedly rose 1.6 percent, while expectations were for a 0.2 percent decline. Durable-goods orders measures the change in the total value of new orders for long lasting manufactured goods.
November U.S. personal income and spending increased 0.6 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively, a data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed. Economists expected a 0.3 percent increase in income and spending. In October, personal income increased slightly and personal spending fell 0.1 percent.
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Meanwhile, Reuters and the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index for December fell to 72.9 from the mid-month reading of 74.5.
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In corporate news, Research In Motion Ltd. (NASDAQ: RIMM) plunged 22.73 percent after the BlackBerry maker posted a drop in its subscriber numbers and forecast an operating loss for the fourth quarter.
Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) fell 1.02 percent. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reportedly rejected the company's "pinch-to-zoom" patent in a preliminary ruling.
NIKE Inc. (NYSE: NKE) added 6.19 percent after the footwear maker posted quarterly earnings that beat Wall Street estimates.
Walgreen Co. (NYSE: WAG) shed 3.30 percent after the drugstore chain reported a drop in earnings for the first quarter amid a decline in comparable store sales and prescriptions filled.
Red Hat Inc. (NYSE: RHT) gained 4.53 percent after the open source software provider posted better-than-forecast revenue for the third quarter.
Micron Technology Inc. (NASDAQ: MU) dropped 6.92 percent after the chip maker posted a first-quarter loss amid a 14 percent drop in sales. Results fell short of market expectations.
Ameristar Casinos Inc. (NASDAQ: ASCA) agreed to be acquired by Pinnacle Entertainment Inc. (NYSE: PNK) for $26.50 per share in cash. ASCA shares jumped 20.07 percent and PNK shares climbed 21.35 percent.
Halozyme Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: HALO) surged 27.36 percent after the company agreed with Pfizer Inc. (PFE) to develop and commercialize products combining proprietary Pfizer biologics with Halozyme's Enhanze technology.
Greenbrier Companies Inc. (NYSE: GBX) dropped 11.12 percent after the railcar maker yet again rejected an increased $22 per share proposal from American Railcar (NASDAQ: ARII), which is controlled by billionaire-investor Carl Icahn.
Transcept Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: TSPT) retreated 6.01 percent after the company said a mid-stage trial evaluating the efficacy and safety of TO-2061 as adjunctive therapy for obsessive compulsive disorder did not meet primary endpoint.
FirstCity Financial Corp. (NASDAQ: FCFC) surged 16.87 percent after the company agreed to be bought by certain funds managed by Varde Partners Inc. for $224.9 million, including debt.
European markets closed on a negative note, with Germany's DAX losing 0.47 percent to close at 7,636.23. France's CAC40 fell 0.15 percent to finish at 3,661.40. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 slid 0.31 percent to end at 5,939.99.
Asian markets ended in red, with China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index down 0.69 percent to finish at 2,153.31. Japan's Nikkei 225 lost 0.99 percent to close at 9,940.06. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.68 percent to end at 22,506.29. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,242, down 1.09 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures dropped 1.50 percent to $88.79 per barrel, and natural gas futures fell 0.72 percent to $3.44 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures rose 0.59 percent to $1,655.5 per ounce and silver futures jumped 1.37 percent to $30.09 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro dropped 0.47 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3182. The British pound fell 0.68 percent against the greenback to 1.6168, and the dollar shed 0.17 percent against the Japanese yen to 84.2500.