Wall Street dips as "fiscal cliff" fears outweigh data


Stocks fell slightly on Thursday, pulling back from six straight days of gains despite a batch of positive economic releases as "fiscal cliff" negotiations in Washington weighed on sentiment.

Weekly claims for jobless benefits dropped near the lowest level since February 2008 and retail sales rose in November after an October decline, improving the picture for consumer spending.

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Best Buy Co shares shot up more than 18 percent after a report that the company's founder is expected to offer to buy the consumer electronics retailer by the end of the week.

Trading was constrained by the drawn-out fiscal talks between Democrats and Republicans. Investors worry that tax hikes and spending cuts set to begin in 2013 if a deal is not reached in Washington will hurt growth. Republican House Speaker John Boehner accused President Barack Obama of "slow-walking" the economy off the fiscal cliff.

"There's a lot of confusion. Nobody knows what's going to happen with the cliff," said Tom Schrader, managing director of U.S. equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets in Baltimore.

Despite the overarching concerns, the S&P 500 has managed gains for six sessions, touching its highest level since October 22 on Wednesday.

"I don't know if there's a lot of anticipation that they're going to get anything done, but the market doesn't seem too worried about it," Schrader said.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 9.35 points, or 0.07 percent, at 13,236.10. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index lost 0.88 point, or 0.06 percent, at 1,427.60. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 3.60 points, or 0.12 percent, at 3,017.41.

A day after the Federal Reserve announced a new round of stimulus for the economy, markets focused on Chairman Ben Bernanke's reiteration that monetary policy would not be sufficient to offset going over the fiscal cliff.

European Union finance ministers reached agreement to make the European Central Bank the bloc's top banking supervisor, which could boost confidence in EU leaders' ability to confront the euro zone's sovereign debt crisis.

CVS Caremark Corp gained 3.0 percent to $48.97 after saying it expects higher earnings in 2013.

Best Buy's stock was trading up $2.09 at $14.27 at midday.

Jobless claims dropped 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 343,000, indicating healing in the labor market.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)