Stocks pressured by fiscal cliff worries
Investors shrug off strong housing, consumer confidence reports
U.S. stocks traded near neutral Tuesday, as investors remain worried about the contentious fiscal cliff battles in Washington.
Investors shrugged off strong reports on housing and consumer confidence, as well as the latest news from Greece, where leaders struck a deal for the nation to avoid defaulting on its debt.
Now that Congress is back in session, lawmakers are under pressure to reach a deal with the White House before the end of the year in order to avoid falling over the fiscal cliff.
"Investors are really facing up to the fact that there are only a few weeks left to get this done," said Frank Davis, head of trading at LEK Securities.
The S&P 500, the Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq bounced around the breakeven line.
Three reports painted a picture of a healthy U.S. economy. The Case-Shiller 20-city index showed that home prices jumped 3.6% in the third quarter, the biggest increase since the second quarter of 2010. Analysts had predicted a 3.1% increase.
The Conference Board released a better-than-expected reading on consumer confidence. November's figure is particularly important, as retailers gear up for the holiday shopping season.
New orders for durable goods, including transportation, were flat in October, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released Tuesday. Excluding transportation, new orders rose 1.5%.
Europe's woes continue to weigh on the United States. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned early Tuesday that Europe's worsening economy next year will slow U.S. growth more than previously forecast.
Late Monday, eurozone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund reached an agreement that moves Greece closer to receiving a massive bailout payment. The deal includes lower interest rates for Greece, a debt buyback, and more time for the debt-laden country to repay its rescue loans.
European markets closed higher, with Britain's FTSE 100 up 0.2%, and Germany's DAX up 0.6%. France's CAC 40 was flat.
Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite lost 1.3%. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong was 0.1% lower, and Japan's Nikkei rose 0.4%.
Companies: Packaged food maker ConAgra announced that it reached a deal to buy Ralcorp, the largest U.S. manufacturer of private label food, for $90 a share in cash -- a 28% premium from Monday's closing price.
Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson said it is suing South Korean electronics maker Samsung for patent infringement.
Shares of Facebook were little changed Tuesday after rising more than 8% Monday following the stock's upgrade by several analysts. Facebook has rallied nearly 50% since touching a low of $17.55 in early September. The stock, currently around $26, is trading at its highest level since late July.
Shares of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters rose more than 2% ahead of the company's earnings release, due out after the closing bell.
Hewlett-Packard, still reeling from its $8.8 billion writedown tied to its $11 billion buyout of software firm Autonomy, dragged down the Dow, dropping more than 2%. HP is now facing lawsuits from investors related to the acquisition.
Currencies and commodities: The dollar gained against the euro and the Japanese yen but was flat against the British pound.
Oil for January delivery slipped 33 cents to $87.42 a barrel.
Gold futures for December delivery fell $7.30 to $1,742.30 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury moved higher, pushing the yield down to 1.62% from 1.66%.
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