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Optimism sneaks into stock markets

| Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

NEW YORK — Optimism that President Obama and congressional leaders will reach a deal on the budget deficit and avoid the “fiscal cliff” helped stocks notch their first advance in four days.

The market started lower on Friday but spiked higher shortly before midday as the top members of the House and Senate spoke at the White House after a closed-door session with Obama.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said they offered higher tax revenue as part of a deal. Boehner said he outlined a framework that is consistent with Obama's call for a “balanced” approach of higher revenue and spending cuts.

“It's a good start ... the fact that they were all standing together,” said Ben Schwartz, the chief market strategist at Lightspeed Financial, a New York-based broker.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 45.93 points, or 0.4 percent, at 12,588.31, after falling as much as 71 points during midmorning. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.55 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,359.88, and the Nasdaq rose 16.19 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,853.13.

Investor concern that Obama and Congress won't reach a deal on how to cut the deficit has caused a sell-off in stocks since Election Day. Stocks fell on Wednesday, when Obama insisted that higher taxes on wealthy Americans would have to be part of any deal and that he would not cave to Republicans who have pressed for tax cuts first passed by President George W. Bush to be extended for all income earners.

The Dow is down 5 percent since Nov. 6. If an agreement is not made, automatic government spending cuts and tax increases are set to kick in at the beginning of next year. The measures total about $700 billion for 2013 and could send the country back into recession.

Mitch Stapley, chief investment officer at Fifth Third Asset Management, says investors and traders are likely to be in for a rough ride until the politicians have brokered a deal.

“Volatility is going to be the hallmark as we go through this process. ... It's going to be a very choppy period coming up,” said Stapley, who is based in Grand Rapids, Mich.

The Dow still ended lower for the week, logging a fourth straight weekly decline. That slump has pared the index's gains for the year to 3 percent. The S&P 500 also ended the week lower and has fallen in three of the past four weeks.

Mixed earnings reports also weighed on stocks.

Dell fell 70 cents, 7.3 percent, to $8.86. The computer maker is struggling as consumers switch to tablets and smartphones away from PCs. Dell said its revenue may fall as much as 13 percent in the fourth quarter.

Sears fell $10.99, or 19 percent, to $47.49 when the retailer said sales at its Kmart and Sears stores continued to tumble.

Superstorm Sandy depressed industrial output in October, while production of machinery and equipment declined sharply, reflecting a more cautious outlook among businesses, according to a Federal Reserve report.

The Federal Reserve says industrial output fell 0.4 percent last month, after a 0.2 percent gain in September. Excluding the storm's impact, production at the nation's factories, mines and utilities would have been up about 0.6 percent.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note edged down to 1.58 percent from 1.59 percent late Thursday.

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