U.S. Markets

Stocks End Lower in Shortened Session as 'Cliff' Woes Weigh


Stocks ended in negative territory in a quiet, shortened trading session Monday, extending declines from the previous session, amid ongoing worries over the looming "fiscal cliff."

Markets will be closed on Tuesday for Christmas day.

Major U.S. Indexes

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 51.76 points, or 0.39 percent, to end at 13,139.08, led by Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard.

The dipped 3.49 points, or 0.24 percent, to finish at 1,426.66. The Nasdaq slid 8.41 points, or 0.28 percent, to close at 3,012.60. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed unchanged near 18.

Among key S&P sectors, energy and utilities closed lower, while materials finished higher.

Cliff Talks Head to New Year's Eve

"I think it's amazing how well the market's held up," said Hank Smith, chief investment officer at the Haverford Trust. "Use any type of correction of pullback as an opportunity to buy because this is not about fundamentals—this is strictly about politics and political ineptitude and it will be very passing and it will not have long-term implications." (Read More: Hunting for Yield? Here's One Place You Can Look)

With just four more trading days left in 2012, ongoing worries over the "fiscal cliff"—$600 billion in tax hikes and automatic spending cuts that kick in on January 1—kept investors on edge. With the House of Representatives and the Senate on their Christmas break and President Obama celebrating the Christmas holiday in Hawaii, talks will likely only resume after December 25.

"With no Plan B and the gulf between the parties as wide as ever, there is little to cheer this holiday season. The optimism that had seen the market rally strongly over the last few weeks is diminishing rapidly amid signs that a deal is as far away as ever," said Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor. (Read More: )

Still, the S&P 500 is on track for its best yearly performance since 2009 with a gain of 13.7 percent year-to-date.

Investing Amid Political Uncertainty

Microsoft slipped after the New York Times reported that sales of the tech giant's new Windows 8 operating system had disappointed PC makers as well as analysts.

JCPenney rose after Oppenheimer said the retailer's promotions are showing evidence of success. The brokerage has an "outperform" rating on the stock and a $30 price target. Still, shares of the company is down more than 40 percent year to date.

Facebook gained after Needham raised its price target on the social-networking giant to $33 from $25.

Research In Motion declined after Exane BNP Paribas cut its target price on the BlackBerry maker to $5.50 from $8.30.

Herbalife fell for the ninth-straight session after the company said it expects to exceed its previously-announced buyback authorization guidance.

European shares were range-bound with light volumes in a truncated day of trading. Major markets such as Germany, Switzerland and Italy were closed.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

Coming Up This Week:

TUESDAY: Markets closed for Christmas
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications, Case-Shiller homeprice index, Richmond Fed mfg index
THURSDAY: Jobless claims, new home sales, consumer confidence, oil inventories, Kansas City Fed survey, Fed balance sheet, money supply
FRIDAY: Chicago PMI, pending home sales, natural gas inventories

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