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Business

Stocks barely budge as debt talks drag on

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NEW YORK (AP) – Stocks barely budged as investors weighed signs of future economic growth with ongoing debt talks.

Stocks finished about where they started Friday as investors balanced positive signs for the US economy with a looming deadline for a deficit-cutting committee in Congress. Steep declines earlier in the week left the market with its worst weekly loss since September.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 25.43 points, or 0.2 percent, to close at 11,796.16. The Dow traded in a relatively narrow range, rising as many as 84 points and falling as many as 15.

The Conference Board’s index of leading economic indicators rose more than Wall St analysts were expecting, a sign that the economy may pick up in the coming months. But many investors were cautious as a key Congressional committee remained deadlocked on ways to cut the US budget deficit.

A bipartisan panel must agree on making at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts by Thanksgiving. If the committee fails and Congress takes no other action, automatic spending cuts will take effect beginning in 2013. Economists worry that a deadlocked Congress will erode business confidence and slow the already-fragile economy.

The Standard and Poor’s 500 lost 0.48 point, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,215.65.

Telecommunications and technology stocks fell broadly. The Nasdaq composite slid 15.49, or 0.6 percent, to 2,572.50.

The Dow is down 2.9 percent for the week. Broader indexes fell even more. The S&P 500 lost 3.8 percent, the Nasdaq four percent. The market fell sharply Wednesday and Thursday on worries that Europe’s debt crisis could spread and hurt US banks.

Encouraging economic reports last week – including a drop in un employment applications and an increase in industrial production – did little to help the market because a European meltdown would easily drag down the US economy, said Kim Caughey Forrest, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group.

“Our economy might be improving, but the fixation is on what’s going to happen with the world banking system if defaults happen in Europe,” she said. She said investors are reluctant to take big positions because no one knows how Europe’s problems will be resolved, or how US companies’ future profits will be affected.

CONFERENCE BOARD

DOW JONES

ECONOMY

FORT PITT CAPITAL GROUP

KIM CAUGHEY FORREST

NASDAQ

STANDARD AND POOR

WALL ST

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