Stocks End Mixed as 'Cliff' Doubts Linger
Stocks ended narrowly mixed in lackluster trading on the final day of November, as investors were reluctant to make big bets ahead of the weekend amid ongoing "fiscal cliff" discussions.
Stocks have been choppy in the recent weeks as investors reacted to a chain of mixed remarks from lawmakers in Washington on the progress of the fiscal cliff talks.
The S&P 500 squeezed out a gain of 0.23 points to end at 1,416.25, while the Nasdaq slipped 1.79 points, to finish at 3,010.24. Both indexes ended in positive territory for the month. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, finished near 16.
For the month, utilities lagged, while consumer discretionaries gained.
"This is still a market that's focused on headlines from Washington," said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. "But you're not seeing any big selloffs given all the headlines, so investors suspect that despite headlines suggesting the gulf is widening between the two parties, negotiations are still going on behind the scenes."
President Obama traveled to a factory Pennsylvania to press his case on raising taxes on the wealthy to narrow the deficit. The president is still negotiating with Republicans on how to avoid the steep automatic tax increases and spending cuts that will kick in soon without a deal. (Read More: Millions at Risk of 'AMT Shock')
Meanwhile, Speaker John Boehner said at a press conference that Republicans are "right now, almost nowhere" in regards to the fiscal cliff talks with the White House.
"In terms of seasonality, the first two weeks of December bodes well for the market and if Washington can assuage fears that they'll get something done, you could still see a nice move for the market," added Krosby, telling investors to keep an eye on the 10-year yield for "confirmation from the treasury market that the economy is improving and gaining traction."
On the economic front, consumer spending slipped in October, falling for the first time in five months, according to the Commerce Department. The decline suggested slower economic growth for the fourth quarter. Economists polled by Reuters expected spending to be flat last month.
Meanwhile, business activity in the Midwest expanded for the first time since August, with the the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago business barometer gaining to 50.4 in November. A reading above 50 indicates expansion in the regional economy.
European shares ended near a 17-month high after Germany's parliament approved new aid measures for Greece, including the reduction of interest Greece pays on loans and the release of bailout funds.
Zynga fell after the online game maker and Facebook revised their two year-old agreement. Facebook will now be able to develop its own games after the end of March, while Zynga no longer has to display Facebook ads or use Facebook payments on its own properties.
For the month, Facebook shares are up more than 30 percent.
Yum Brands tumbled after the parent company of KFC and Pizza Hut handed in a 2013 earnings growth guidance that was below expectations, adding that sales in China have softened. Barclays cut its price target to $68 from $72, while UBS downgraded the stock to "neutral" from "buy."
Whole Foods became the latest company to announce a special dividend ahead of expected higher dividend tax rates next year. So far, nearly 100 companies with a market cap greater than $250 million have declared special cash dividends since the beginning of the fourth quarter. The total dollar value of those special dividend is over $20 billion dollars.
Many companies have also moved their dividend payment dates forward to December. Heinz accelerated its quarterly dividend payment to late December from early January.
Apple's latest iPhone has received final clearance from Chinese regulators, paving the way for a December debut in a highly competitive market where the lack of a new model had severely eroded its share of product sales.
Johnson & Johnson announced CEO Alex Gorsky will succeed chairman Bill Weldon when he steps down from his position at the end of next month. The drugmaker had named Gorsky as CEO earlier this year, replacing Weldon.
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
On Tap Next Week:
MONDAY: ISM manufacturing index, construction spending, Fed's Bullard speaks, auto sales; Earnings from PepBoys
TUESDAY: Earnings from AutoZone, Toll Brothers, Pandora, Mattress Firm
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage apps, ADP employment report, productivity & costs, factory orders, ISM non-mfg index, oil inventories; Earnings from Men's Warehouse
THURSDAY: BoE announcement, Challenger job-cut report, ECB announcement, jobless claims, quarterly services survey, Apple/Samsung hearing; Earnings from H&R Block, Lululemon, Smithfield Foods, Cooper Cos.
FRIDAY: Employment situation, consumer sentiment, consumer credit
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