5 Years : From Nov 2010 to Nov 2015
By Kate Gibson, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks on Tuesday closed nearly unchanged after a two-session surge as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke urged lawmakers to make a deal and end uncertainty over the so-called fiscal cliff of scheduled spending cuts and tax hikes.
"This is a classic fear-driven market. It seems like people in Washington are much more willing to play nice together, but a lot of folks on Main Street and Wall Street just don't trust them yet," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) fell 7.45 points, or less than 0.1%, to 12,788.51, with Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) pacing losses that included 12 of the index's 30 components.
H-P's shares skidded 12% after the Dow component reported fourth-quarter revenue below expectations and earnings above estimates, but only after excluding a large accounting charge tied to alleged fraud by an acquired company.
The S&P 500 index (SPX) rose nearly 1 point to 1,387.81, with technology the poorest performer and health care faring the best among the 10 industry groups.
The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) added 0.61 point to 2,916.68.
Advancers edged just ahead of decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, where 641 million shares traded. Composite volume neared 3.2 billion.
Oversold on hope?
In a speech Tuesday afternoon in New York, Bernanke said Washington needs to resolve the uncertainty over U.S. tax and spending policy weighing on consumers, businesses and markets.
The Fed chief's reiteration of the threat and his repeating his assertion that the central bank does not have the tools to offset the economic harm the cliff represents is a "reminder once again that yesterday was a hope trade, and we're taking some of the hope trade off today," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.
"What's holding the market hostage at the moment is the fiscal cliff, every day all day," said Luschini.
"With Congress set to end its session in mid-December, the fuse is getting increasingly short," he added of the time remaining for a deal to avert automatic tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to begin in January.
"The market is seesawing between what can actually happen this year and what can happen beginning next year. I've been saying all along that some type of resolution will probably be put into place early on next year," said Pavlik.
Stocks on Monday rallied for a second session on optimism that President Barack Obama and congressional leaders would reach agreement on averting the tax hikes and spending cuts otherwise known as the fiscal cliff.
"We had a big rally yesterday; that may have been the result of an oversold condition," said Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist at Robert W. Baird & Co.
"I'm a little concerned about yesterday -- we had a lot of optimism all of a sudden based on some discussion that the fiscal cliff could be resolved before year-end. And the consensus seems to be that what is going on in the Middle East is not all that troubling, as well," Bittles said.
On Tuesday, Egypt's president reportedly said a week of fighting between Israel and Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip would come to a halt later in the day. The comments came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to the Middle East to take part in truce talks.
Oil prices fell for the first session in three, with crude futures sliding $2.53, or 2.8%, to $86.75 a barrel.
Best Buy Co. (BBY) fell after the consumer-electronics retailer reported a $10 million loss for the third quarter on weaker-than-expected sales at its established stores.
The Commerce Department said construction of new homes unexpectedly rose to the highest in more than four years in October. Economists polled by MarketWatch had anticipated a decline, due in part to superstorm Sandy.
"The housing industry is getting better to the benefit of the balance sheets of the American consumer and banking system," emailed Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co.
A day after Moody's Investors Service lowered France's top credit ranking, European finance ministers are meeting in an effort to shore up Greece's finances.
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