Wall Street advances on 'fiscal cliff' talks


U.S. stocks edged up in a thinly traded session on Thursday after Republican House Speaker John Boehner pledged to keep working on a solution to the "fiscal cliff" while still criticizing President Barack Obama's approach to budget talks.

NYSE Euronext was the day's biggest gainer, surging 33.5 percent to $32.12 as the S&P 500's top percentage gainer, after IntercontinentalExchange Inc said it would buy the operator of the New York Stock Exchange for $8.2 billion.

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ICE shares were last down 0.7 percent at $127.40.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives pushed ahead with their own fiscal plan, complicating negotiations with the White House over a way to avoid a series of steep tax hikes and spending cuts due in early 2013. Obama has vowed to veto the plan.

Investors have hoped for an agreement soon between policymakers, but progress has been slow. Boehner said he expected to continue to work with Obama to find a solution, but repeated his charge that Obama and the Democrats were trying to "slow walk" the country over the fiscal cliff.

"Speaker Boehner went on the air and basically told us he doesn't like what the president's doing or not doing, and the markets rallied on that, which was kind of weird. But we have very light volume," said Stephen Guilfoyle, a trader at Meridian Equity Partners in New York.

About 4 billion shares had changed hands on major U.S. exchanges, a typically light day of trading for late December.

The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 27.94 points, or 0.21 percent, to 13,279.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 5.51 points, or 0.38 percent, to 1,441.32. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 5.44 points, or 0.18 percent, to 3,049.80.

Stocks rallied earlier in the week on signs of progress in the fiscal cliff negotiations, but with the S&P 500 up 14.6 percent so far this year, investors are taking the opportunity to engage in some hedging as 2012 comes to a close.

Herbalife lost 10.2 percent to $33.54 following news that hedge fund manager Bill Ackman was betting against the company as part of his big end-of-the-year short.

The S&P Financial Index gained 1.04 percent.

The U.S. economy grew 3.1 percent in the third quarter, faster than previously estimated, while the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected in the latest week.

Existing home sales jumped 5.9 percent in November, more than expected, and by the fastest monthly pace in three years. An index of housing shares gained 0.43 percent.

But KB Home slid 7 percent to $15.49 as the company reported higher homebuilding costs and expenses in the fourth quarter.

(Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica and Leah Schnurr; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski and Jan Paschal)