Stocks Finish Mostly Lower Amid Higher Oil, Weaker Manufacturing

Stocks closed mostly lower amid higher oil prices and a surprising decline in Midwest business activity.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down slightly, as did the Nasdaq. The S&P 500 closed marginally higher.

Stocks began falling in mid-morning after Chicago purchasing managers said their business barometer fell to 49.9 from 53.5 in October. Economists had forecast the index at 54.0. A reading below 50 indicates contraction.

Investors had little reaction to an earlier government reported that core inflation in October rose slightly faster than expected at 0.2%. Personal income rose 0.4% and spending increased by 0.2%.

Crude oil rose to the $63 a barrel level as colder weather drifted eastward across the U.S. and fresh government data showed shrinking supplies of crude, gasoline and heating oil. Gold closed at its highest level since September 5th.

Tomorrow investors will look forward to the release of the ISM manufacturing index, a survey on business conditions at nearly 400 manufacturers. The index is expected to rise to 52.0 in November, from 51.2 in October. A reading above 50 indicates an expanding factory sector.

November motor vehicle sales also will be reported Friday. U.S. car sales for the month are estimated to have risen to 5.3 million from 5.1 million in October, while November light truck sales are estimated to have risen to 7.3 million from 7.2 million.

Billionaire financier Kirk Kerkorian may have sold his entire stake in General Motors, CNBC's David Faber is reporting. In an SEC filing, Kerkorian's Tracinda said it has agreed to sell 14 million shares of the automaker, representing a third of Tracinda's remaining GM holdings. Shares of GM fell on the news.

Investors are also examining results from retailers as an indicator of how strong the holiday shopping season will be. Some of the nation's largest retailers have reported disappointing sales.

Dow component Wal-Mart confirmed that same-store sales in November dropped 0.1%, slightly below the 0.0% consensus estimate. The world's largest retailer also said December sales would be flat to up 0.1% due to continuing challenges in its apparel and home business.

Rival Target Corporation fared better than Wal-Mart, reporting a November same-store sales increase of 5.9%, slightly better than the 5.7% estimate.

J.C. Penney disappointed investors with an increase in November same-store sales of only 1.4% versus the 3.7% average that analysts were expecting.

Costco reported a rise in November same-store sales of 5%, shy of the 5.7% consensus estimate among analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call. The retailer blamed falling prices for gasoline sold at its filling stations.

Shares of Pfizer rose after the world's largest drugmaker raised earnings guidance for the year.

European Markets End Down

The FTSE 100 in London, the Frankfurt DAX and the CAC-40 in Paris all closed lower on the Chicago purchasing managers index data. European investors were concerned a weaker dollar will hurt companies that export goods to the United States such as automakers.

In Frankfurt, Volkswagen led large cap shares down.

In currency trading, the dollar fell to a 14-year low against the British pound. Sterling is up 14% against the dollar this year, helped by Bank of England rate hikes, Reuters reported.

The number of German's out of work fell below 4 million in November, the first time since 2002. But the jobless rate in the country is still north of 10% and retail sales in the country were disappointing.

The mayor of London has called for the U.K.'s Office of Fair Trading to look into the Nasdaq's$5.27 billion takeover offer for the London Stock Exchange on the basis that it might hurt competition.

Asian Markets Rally

The bulls pushed Asian markets higher as investors cheered the stronger-than-expected revision to U.S. gross domestic product data buoyed.

The strong U.S. economic numbers led the Nikkei to close at its highest level in 2 weeks, while Singapore's Straits Times Index inched up to hit a fresh record. The Australian S&P/ASX 200, meantime, was in close sight of a new high thanks to surprisingly strong retail sales data for October. The Korean Kospi also rose to touch a new six-month high.