(MENAFN - ProactiveInvestors - Australia) U.S. stocks lost momentum overnight following a bright start to the trading day - with the major indexes generally trended lower throughout the day.
By the close the Dow Jones had eased 29 points (-0.23%) to 12,542, while the NASDAQ gave up ten points (-0.35%) to 2837.
Fiscal cliff fears
Fiscal cliff fears in the U.S. remain a heightened concern for market participants. President Obama will gather with Democratic and Republican congressional leaders Friday to start negotiations to reach a deficit-reduction deal.
The number of Americans claiming unemployment benefits last week jumped to an 18-month high, largely a side-effect of the superstorm that battered parts of the East Coast.
First-time jobless claims soared by 78,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 in the week ended November 10, the Labor Department said. A government spokesman said applications surged in the parts of the country that lay in the path of Hurricane Sandy.
Economists surveyed by MarketWatch had forecast claims would rise to 380,000 on the week, largely because of the storm.
Ben Bernanke speaks
In a speech in Atlanta, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke said that mortgage lending standards now appear to be "overly tight" and are preventing creditworthy borrowers from buying homes, thus slowing the revival in housing and impeding the economic recovery.
Despite welcome signs of an emerging improvement in the housing market in most parts of the country, the sector is "far from being out of the woods," Bernanke said.
U.S. economic news
Separate reports showed manufacturing in the New York region contracted in November as the storm took out power and curbed activity, and economic activity also declined this month in the Philadelphia area.
U.S. corporate news
In corporate news, BP (NYSE:BP) said Thursday it has agreed to pay about 4.5 billion to settle federal charges stemming from its 2010 oil spill in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
The oil giant will pay 4 billion to resolve all criminal claims with the Department of Justice. It will also pay 525 million to settle all securities claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
BP said its existing 38 billion charge against income for the spill will increase by 3.85 billion.
Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) shares slid after the retail giant's revenue fell short of forecasts, and the company cited currency fluctuations and "economic conditions," as negative factors impacting its sales.
Target (NYSE:TGT) shares rose after the retailer reported earnings in line with forecasts, but missed revenue forecasts.
Retailers Sears (NASDAQ:SHLD) and Gap (NYSE:GPS) will report after the closing bell Thursday, alongside computer-maker Dell (NYSE:Dell).