Stocks End Near Lows, S&P Negative for 2011

Stocks finished near their worst levels Wednesday, with the S&P falling into negative territory for the year, as the euro tumbled and investors remained on the sidelines amid what is expected to be a light news week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 139.94 points, or 1.14 percent, to finish at 12,151.41, led by BofA and Alcoa.

The S&P 500 fell 15.79 points, or 1.25 percent, to end at 1,249.64, snapping a five-day winning streak and slipping back into negative territory for 2011. The Nasdaq tumbled 35.22 points, or 1.34 percent, to close at 2,589.98.

The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, jumped above 23.

All 10 S&P sectors finished firmly in negative territory, led by energy and materials.

The euro tumbled near a one-year lowagainst the greenback as investors were disappointed after a ECB report that showed European banks deposited a record $585 billion with the central bank. Gold fell near $1,560 an ounce, hitting a three-month low.

Meanwhile, European stocks closed mixedevenafter Italy sold 9 billion euros ($11.8 billion) in 6-month T-bills, with a yield of 3.25 percent compared with November's euro era high of 6.5 percent.

The calendar is light on the economic and corporate news front. Volume is also expected to remain weak as investors remain on the sidelines ahead of the year-end. On Tuesday, volume was at its thinnest level for a full day of trading this year.

"The hazard for investors in a low volume environment is once the pendulum shifts one way—bullish or bearish—the market tends to move in that direction," said Todd Schoenberger, managing director at LandColt Trading. "And with very little to help shift course in the form of macro economic data, the path of least resistance for today's action is down."

In corporate news, Morgan Stanley announced plans to cut 580 jobs at four offices in New York City.

Meanwhile, the New York Times said it wants to sell 16 regional newspapers to Halifax Media for $143 million.

On the retail front, ComScore reported that holiday spending rose by 15 percent from the same period a year ago, to over $35 billion so far this year.

Sears Holdings closed lower for a second following a sharp plunge in the previous session after the retail giant announced weak holiday sales and store closings.

On the tech front, Cavium edged lower after the semiconductor maker slashed its fourth-quarter sales outlook, citing weak demand from corporate clients.

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On Tap This Week:

THURSDAY: Jobless claims, Chicago PMI, oil inventories, Fed balance sheet/money supply
FRIDAY: Farm prices

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