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Dow Ends Lower Amid Bank-Profit Worries

Stocks ended mixed Wednesday, with the Dow finishing slightly lower, as oil prices fell and investors worried about bank profits. Amazon buoyed the Nasdaq.

Stocks had opened higher after a pair of private employment reports showed an improvement in the jobs picture but not as much as expected. But the market pulled back after the S&P broke through the key 1,111 level, suggesting it still remains a key resistance point. An upbeat Fed "beige book" report failed to inspire a rebound.

Alcoa, Home Depot and Verizonwere the biggest gainers on the Dow.

Financials were once again the weakest link as investors worried that bank profits could be hit by new derivatives legislation being kicked around on Capitol Hill. Bank of America was one of the biggest drags on the blue-chip index.

JPMorgan said its revenue could slide by as much as $3 billion if the legislation passes, according to a note from Sanford C. Bernstein.

This came after the Dow gained 1.2 percentTuesday as Dubai fears subsided and the dollar retreated.

The latest on that front is that Dubai World has agreed to meet with its creditorsnext week.

In today's trading, the dollar rose against the yenbut held steady against the euro. Oil dropped to $76.60 a barrelafter a report showed crude supplies jumped by 2.1 million barrels last week.Gold soared past the prior session's record of $1,200 an ounce, settling at $1,212.

The Fed's "beige-book" report, a summary of regional reports on economic activity, was the most upbeat in about two years. The report showed consumer spending up "moderately," and an improvement in both home sales and construction. However, commercial real estate activity was noted as "deteriorating" and labor conditions remain weak.

Comments from Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker today echoed those of Philadelphia Fed chief Plosser and others, setting the stage for Fed rate increases — not anytime soon, but just a way of lifting the "indefinitely" expectation for how long rates will stay low.

"I will be looking for the time at which economic growth is strong enough and well-established enough, even if it is not yet especially vigorous,'' Lacker said. "We cannot be paralyzed by patches of lingering weakness.''

A couple of reports on the employment situation offered some insight ahead of the government's jobs report, due out on Friday.

Payroll-services company ADP reported that private employers shed 169,000 jobs from their payrolls in November, fewer than the 195,000 jobs lost in October but more than the 155,000 expected. ADP forecasts typically run sharply lower than the actual numbers released by the Labor Department. The government report is due out on Friday. Economists expect to see that 140,000 jobs were shed from nonfarm payrolls last month.

Meanwhile outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported that employers announced just over 50,000 layoffs in November, the lowest number in nearly two years.

On the M&A front, the GE -Comcast deal is expected to be officially announced Thursday morning. GE is the parent of CNBC.

Walmart shook the Christmas tree once again, announcing another round of price cuts— this time on videogames.

Retailers were mostly higher as investors digested the latest numbers: ShopperTrak reported sales rose 1.6 percent over the Thanksgiving weekend, up from 0.9 percent last year.

Amazon shares jumped 2.7 percent, giving the Nasdaq a boost, after comScore said online spending rose 5 percent on "Cyber Monday" to $887 million from the same day last year.

Google shares slipped after the search giant offered some clarity on its spat with News Corp.: Google will allow readers five free news articles per day but prompt them to subscribe after that.

Shares of rival Yahoo rose 1.2 percent after the Internet portal expanded its integration with Facebook, allowing users of its email, photo-sharing and other activities to link their updates directly into Facebook.

Homebuilders were mixed but home-improvement stores Home Depot and Lowe's rose after a report showed mortgage applications roselast weekas borrowing rates stayed below 5 percent.

Regional banks were mostly higher after Credit Suisse upgraded the group to "overweight" on a belief that most of the major companies won't need to raise additional capital.

Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report
Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report

In particular, Credit Suisse raised SunTrust to "outperform" from "neutral" and BB&T to "neutral" from "underperform."

A day earlier, analyst Dick Bove said he's concerned that the government wants to increase capital requirements for banks. Of the top 30, Bove said, only 4 don't need to raise capital: Citigroup, State Street, Northern Trust and First Horizon.

Volume was light, with 1.03 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange. Advancers outpaced decliners, nearly 2 to 1.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: GE-Comcast deal announced; Chain-store sales; weekly jobless claims; ECB, UK rate meetings; Bernanke renomination hearing; ISM services index; Earnings from Toll Brothers, Marvell Tech and Novell
FRIDAY: November jobs report; Fed's Plosser, Bullard speak; factory orders; Earnings from Big Lots

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.