Stocks Slump Amid Mixed Data, Congressional Fatigue

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The markets fell on Tuesday as traders parsed through mixed economic reports and braced for another round of negotiations in Congress over the U.S. debt ceiling.

Today's Markets

As of 11:00 a.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 20.3 points, or 0.15%, to 13487, the S&P 500 dipped 3.1 points, or 0.21%, to 1468 and the Nasdaq Composite slumped 16.4 points, or 0.52%, to 3101.

Focus is once again shifting back to Washington, D.C. after a short lull in news from the nation's capital following the fiscal cliff resolution. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in a note to Congress late Monday that the U.S. is likely to run out of borrowing authority between mid-February and early March. That doesn't give Congress very much time to negotiate a deal to raise America's debt ceiling and stave off several punishing effects, including a potential default.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called on Congress to act as soon as possible at an event hosted by the University of Michigan Monday. "It's very, very important that Congress takes the necessary action to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a situation where our government doesn't pay its bills," he said, according to Reuters.

Wall Street also got a round of economic data on the day.

Retail sales jumped 0.5% in December from November, topping the 0.2% expected. Excluding the auto component, sales were up 0.3%, slightly higher than the 0.2% expected.

"If today’s retail sales figures are to be believed, the fourth quarter ended on a stronger footing than previously thought," Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG wrote in an e-mail.

"At the same time, given the changes in marginal tax rates and the removal of the payroll tax reduction, backward looking data such as these are even more backward looking than normal."

Inflation at the wholesale level ticked lower by 0.2% in December from the month prior, slightly more than the 0.1% expected, as food prices took their biggest fall since May 2011. Excluding the food and energy components, prices rose 0.1%, which was inline with estimates.

The New York Federal Reserve's regional manufacturing gauge fell to -7.78 in January from a revised -7.3 in December. The index was expected to rise to zero. Readings above zero point to expansion, while those below indicate contraction.

Oil futures were in the red. The benchmark contract fell 15 cents, or 0.15%, to $94.01 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.3% to $2.746 a gallon. In metals, gold rose $8.10, or 0.49%, to $1,678 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.28% to 2707, the English FTSE 100 rose 0.02% to 6109 and the German DAX dipped 0.19% to 7714.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 jumped 0.72% to 10879 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.14% to 23382.