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News that a much-awaited debt deal in Greece has hit yet another snag dimmed sentiment on Wall Street, pressuring stock futures and threatening to knock the blue chips from their highest mark since May 2008.
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Greece's main political parties agreed on Thursday to a package of highly unpopular austerity measures aimed at cutting down the embattled country's public debt level. The deal was a key demand of the European Union and International Monetary Fund, both of which pledged in October to provide Greece with a $172 billion bailout.
Greece needs the first tranche of rescue aid by March 20 to avoid a disorderly default that could hammer European financial markets. However, eurozone finance ministers meeting in Brussels late Thursday said they would not sign off on the bailout until next Wednesday, and only under the conditions that Greece's parliament votes for the austerity package and political leaders of the three main parties agree to it in writing.
"In short: no disbursement without implementation," Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker who also heads the so-called Eurogroup said.
The ruling Pasok socialist party controls 153 of 300 seats in Greece's legislative body, meaning it could potentially pass the the vote that is expected to take place this weekend on its own.
However, there is always a risk of defectors that don't follow the party's line, and other, smaller, groups, such as the nationalist Laos party, have voiced strong opposition over the past couple of days. Indeed, the four members of the far-right Laos party that are on Prime Minister Lucas Papademos' cabinet offered their resignation on Friday, according to a report by Reuters, citing the Athens News Agency.
On top of that, protests against the measures have heated up across the country.
Frustration among market participants across the world who have been watching the situation in Greece unfold for weeks was palpable.
"The market itself is likely to start to lose patience with the ongoing nature of this crisis," analysts at Nomura wrote in a note to clients entitled "Greece. Again." Echoing that sentiment, analysts at Barclays Capital published a note called "The Greek saga close to an end?"
While markets were to the downside partly as a result of the Greek drama, the moves were relatively subdued as compared to some of the intense fluctuations seen last year.
"While investors with whom we meet still discuss Greece, it has most certainty moved down the priority list," Dan Greenhaus, chief market strategist at BTIG wrote in a note to clients. Indeed, according to BTIG's research, out of 27 sessions so far in 2012, 20 have seen the broad S&P 500 gauge moving 0.5% or less.
The euro fell 0.63% to $1.3202, while the U.S. dollar climbed 0.25% against a basket of world currencies tracked by the dollar index.
Beyond Greece, traders will have two economic reports to parse through. The U.S. trade deficit widened to $48.8 billion in December from $47.1 billion the month prior. Economists were expecting a slightly narrower reading of $48 billion. The increase came as a result of imports that jumped 1.3%, while exports only nudged higher by 0.7%.
The Reuters/University of Michigan gauge of consumer sentiment is forecast to have fallen slightly in early February to 74.5 from a final reading of 75 last month.
Commodities were in the red as equities fell and the dollar rose. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York fell $2.06, or 2.1%, to $97.75 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline dipped 1.1% to $2.979 a gallon.
In metals, gold slid $26.00, or 1.5%, to $1,715 a troy ounce.
European blue chips slid 1.6%, the English FTSE 100 dipped 0.79% to 5,849 and the German DAX sold off by 1.7% to 6,675.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 slumped 0.61% to 8,947 and the Chinese Hang Seng skidded 1.7% to 6,675.