Stocks advanced on Friday, but were well off session highs after comments by President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner left investors little hope that a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" was on the horizon.
Both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq had risen 1 percent around midday following economic data showing consumer sentiment was at its highest level in more than five years and wholesale inventories jumped in September.
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But the fiscal cliff and the euro zone's debt crisis remain the primary concerns for investors.
House Speaker Boehner had called on Obama to lead the efforts to avert the cliff, but stood by his opposition to any tax increases on the wealthy.
Obama later invited congressional leaders to the White House to start negotiating a deal, but again pushed for higher taxes for wealthier Americans, underscoring the divide in any bargaining.
"Investors were disappointed. There was an anticipation that there may be more willingness to compromise, but just like Boehner did earlier in the day, both camps stuck to their lines in the sand, so to speak," said Mohannad Aama, managing director of Beam Capital Management LLC in New York.
The S&P 500 fell 3.6 percent in the previous two sessions, its worst two-day performance in slightly over a year, following the U.S. election as investors shifted their focus back to the looming "fiscal cliff" and the euro zone's debt crisis.
The potential for higher tax rates in 2013 is pushing investors to sell both losing and winning stocks for the year, as they seek to decrease the tax impact from their positions this year and next.
The fiscal cliff, a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases set to go into effect early next year unless Congress acts to change the law before then, could take an estimated $600 billion out of the U.S. economy and push it into recession.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 13.59 points, or 0.11 percent, to 12,824.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 5.34 points, or 0.39 percent, to 1,382.85. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 17.75 points, or 0.61 percent, to 2,913.33.
Euro-zone concerns also linger for investors. Growth in Germany, Europe's largest economy, is likely to weaken in the next two quarters as companies postpone investments while France's central bank said it expected the euro zone's second-largest economy to slip into recession as 2012 ends.
Greece is fast running out of cash while it awaits the next tranche of its 130-billion-euro international bailout that is keeping it afloat, a deputy finance minister said.
The S&P 500 closed on Thursday below its 200-day moving average for the first time in five months, a bearish technical signal that could keep stocks under pressure.
Groupon Inc's shares sank 29.5 percent to $2.77 a day after the daily deal company's results fell short of Wall Street's expectations.
The stock of J.C. Penney fell 4.8 percent to $20.65 and ranked as the S&P 500's biggest decliner after the retailer reported a sharper-than-expected decline in quarterly sales at stores open at least a year.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Friday, of the 449 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 63.3 percent have topped analysts' expectations - slightly above the 62 percent average since 1994, but below the 67 percent beat rate over the past four quarters.
But revenue results remain disappointing, with only 38.2 percent of companies topping expectations - well below the 62 percent average since 2002, and the 55 percent beat rate over the past four quarters.
(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)