Published — Wednesday 5 December 2012
Last update 5 December 2012 12:41 am
NEW YORK: US stocks edged lower yesterday as investors fretted about Washington's ability to avoid a year-end budget crisis, but a Greek plan to buy back debt pushed the euro to a six-week high.
Commodities also struggled as weak manufacturing data and tense US budget talks stoked worries about the world economy.
Markets fear the United States could slip into recession if $600 billion of tax hikes and spending cuts are allowed to start taking effect in January. The White House and Congress have yet to agree on a long-term deficit reduction plan.
"This back-and-forth contentious debate is not helping investor attitudes and not boosting confidence in Washington," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank, who added the uncertainty prevents firms from hiring.
Data this week showed US manufacturing contracted in November, its worst month in more than three years.
"It's really starting to hurt the economy, and that increases trepidation among investors," Ablin said.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 2.91 points, or 0.02 percent, at 12,968.51. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 2.84 points, or 0.20 percent, at 1,406.62. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 16.19 points, or 0.54 percent, at 2,986.00.
Worries about US lawmakers' inability to compromise on fiscal issues sapped earlier gains in European shares, with the FTSEurofirst 300 index retreating from a 17-month peak.
The euro, however, remained near a six-week high above $ 1.31, boosted by a Greek debt buyback plan and encouraging news from Portugal and Spain. Greece's buyback is a crucial part of a deal reached last week by international lenders to cut the country's debt pile, and needs to be completed before the IMF can release its emergency aid.
With the euro zone mood lifting, Spanish, Italian and Greek bonds rose while German Bunds stayed on the back foot.
though losses were limited by the potential impasse in budget talks.
Italian 10-year yields fell 5 basis points to 4.40 percent, while the Spanish equivalent was 3 ticks down at 5.24 percent, extending Monday's falls after Greece unveiled better-than-expected terms for the debt buyback.
Lingering worries about the world economy, though, pushed oil and gold lower, while copper was little changed. US crude oil dipped 78 cents to $ 88.31 a barrel, and gold fell about 1 percent to its lowest in nearly a month after prices broke below key support levels.
Weaker manufacturing data raised concern about fragile global growth, which could hurt demand for energy.