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Stocks Slump for First Time This Week as Fiscal-Cliff Talks Skid


The Census Bureau reported Wednesday that housing starts declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000 in November from a downwardly revised 888,000 units in October. Economists, on average, had expected a rate of 873,000.

Building permits rose to a pace of 899,000 in November from an upwardly revised 868,000 in October. Expectations called for 875,000.

"Housing starts were slightly lower than expected while the level of building permits -- a useful gauge of the future health of the housing market -- rose to the strongest since July 2008," noted Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak. "The level of starts fell for the first time in three months yet there is little question about the momentum that has characterized the homebuilding market for more than two years."

Gold for February delivery settled down $3 at $1,667.70 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while February crude oil contracts closed up $1.58 at $89.98 a barrel.

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The benchmark 10-year Treasury climbed 5/32 to dilute the yield to 1.805%. The dollar was slipping 0.01%, according to the U.S. dollar index .

In corporate news, UBS(UBS) , the Swiss bank, admitted to fraud, agreeing Wednesday to pay about $1.5 billion in fines in the Libor rate-rigging scandal. Shares were off 1.2%.

Oracle (ORCL) reported fiscal second-quarter earnings that topped Wall Street estimates . Shares tacked on more than 3.7%.

Shipping giant FedEx(FDX) missed Wall Street estimates as net income fell due to persistent global weakness and the impact of Hurricane Sandy . Nevertheless, shares rose 0.91%.

Getco will buy Knight Capital Group (KCG) for about $2 billion after sweetening its offer for the market-maker , Reuters reported, citing people close to the deal. Shares of Knight Capital surged 5.4%.

General Mills (GIS) on Wednesday posted second-quarter profit of 86 cents a share on revenue of $4.88 billion, beating the bottom-line estimate of 79 cents a share and matching top-line expectations amid good performance by each of the company's operating segments. Shares were down 1.2%.

SPX(SPW) is close to buying rival Gardner Denver (GDI) for about $4.2 billion, as it makes progress in securing financing, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters.

A deal could value Gardner Denver at about $85 share. SPX shares closed up 0.77%, while Gardner Denver shares popped 3.2%.

Stimuvax, an experimental cancer immunotherapy from Merck KGaA and Oncothyreon(ONTY) , failed to improve survival in a late-stage study of non-small cell lung cancer patients, the companies announced Wednesday. Oncothyreon shares plummeted 51.3%.

Delphi Automotive (DLPH) replaces Titanium Metals (TIE) in the S&P 500 index after the close on Friday. Delphi shares spiked 3.5%.

Automotive interiors provider Johnson Controls (JCI) provided fiscal 2013 sales and profit guidance that topped current expectations. Shares rose 1.9%.