The S&P 500 ended the day with minor losses following a volatile session. Equities began the day on a positive note, but comments from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid caused a quick change in sentiment. Speaking from the Senate floor, Senator Reid said that all signs suggest the country will go over the fiscal cliff. In addition, the senator said the House of Representatives is being run as a "dictatorship" by Speaker Boehner. The comments caused the major averages to fall to their respective lows. However, an afternoon report out of Washington indicated the House of Representatives will reconvene on Sunday, December 30 at 18:30 ET in hopes of approving a budget. In response, the major averages raced off their lows, ending the day little changed after seeing losses of more than 1.0%. Financial stocks showed the most intraday sensitivity to the headlines, and the sector led the late-morning decline. However, the late-afternoon rally helped the sector recover the bulk of its losses. Among the majors, Bank of America (BAC 11.47, -0.07) shed 0.6% and JPMorgan Chase (JPM 43.63, -0.33) fell 0.8%. The SPDR Materials Select Sector ETF (XLB 37.29, -0.13) lost 0.4%. Provider of construction materials Headwaters (HW 8.18, -0.31) slipped 3.7% despite being upgraded at Avondale to 'Market Perform' with a $10 price target. Elsewhere, steelmakers underperformed. Mechel Steel (MTL 6.72, -0.04) settled lower by 0.6% and United States Steel (X 23.64, -0.62) slid 2.6%. Also of note, AK Steel (AKS 4.38, -0.22) lost 4.8%, and was a notable laggard. Gold miners saw strength after this morning's developments painted a bullish picture for the yellow metal. Newmont Mining (NEM 45.47, +0.39) and Royal Gold (RGLD 80.10, +1.58) settled higher by 0.9% and 2.0% respectively. The Dow Jones Transportation Average shed 0.4% and 17 of 20 components declined. Shipping stocks outperformed and Matson (MATX 24.66, +0.07) added 0.3% after signing an agreement to acquire the assets of Reef Shipping in the South Pacific. Meanwhile, peer Kirby (KEX 61.10, +0.20) settled higher by 0.3%. On the downside, airlines extended their recent weakness. JetBlue Airways (JBLU 5.68, -0.05) and Alaska Air (ALK 43.26, -0.22) declined for a fourth consecutive session and lost 0.9% and 0.5%, respectively. European markets ended on a mixed note. Germany's DAX added 0.3%, France's CAC settled higher by 0.6%, and the United Kingdom's FTSE finished unchanged. The United Kingdom's FTSE ended flat, and most stocks saw little change. However, miners outperformed after the Chinese government revealed plans to boost infrastructure spending. Anglo American rose by 2.1% and Eurasian Natural Resources gained 3.7%. In Germany, financials and carmakers outperformed. Commerzbank gained 1.2% and Deutsche Bank added 0.6%. Among carmakers, BMW advanced 0.8% and Volkswagen finished higher by 0.4%. The two saw strength after Germany's Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the country's economy will expand at a "decent" rate next year with exports as the main growth driver. France's CAC was supported by industrials. Schneider Electric gained 2.3% and Vinci tacked on 1.6%. On the downside, STMicroelectronics lost 1.1%. Today's economic news was mixed. The latest weekly initial jobless claims count totaled 350,000, which was better than the 375,000 that had been expected by the Briefing.com consensus. The tally was below the revised prior week count of 362,000. As for continuing claims, they fell to 3.206 million from 3.238 million. The December consumer confidence came in at 65.1, while economists polled by Briefing.com expected a reading of 70.0. This follows the prior month's revised reading of 71.5. Separately, new home sales in November hit an annualized rate of 377,000, which was up from October's revised rate of 361,000, and worse than the rate of 379,000 that had been broadly expected by the Briefing.com consensus.
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