US stocks : Dow off 0.2 pct
Many investors said concerns about the "fiscal cliff" kept shoppers away from stores, suggesting markets may struggle to gain any ground until that issue is resolved. The CBOE Volatility Index or VIX, Wall Street's favorite barometer of investor anxiety, rose 4.46 percent, closing above 19 for the first time since Nov. 7.
A number of 2012's strongest performers advanced, a sign\ that portfolio managers may be engaging in "window dressing," a practice where market participants buy securities with big gains to improve the appearance of their holdings before presenting the results to clients. Bank of America Corp, which has more than doubled in 2012, added 2.6 percent to $11.54 on Wednesday.
Holiday-related sales rose 0.7 percent from Oct. 28 through Dec. 24, compared with a 2 percent increase last year, according to data from MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse. The Morgan Stanley retail index skidded 1.8 percent while the SPDR S&P Retail Trust slipped 1.7 percent.
"With the 'fiscal cliff' hanging over our heads, it was hard to convince people to shop, and now it's hard to convince investors that there's any reason to buy going into year-end," said Rick Fier, director of trading at Conifer Securities in New York.
President Barack Obama is due back in Washington early Thursday for a final effort to negotiate a deal with Congress to bridge a series of tax increases
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