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Dec. 24, 2012 at 2:27 PM
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Markets slide Monday

NEW YORK, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- U.S. stock markets leaned lower Monday following mixed results in Asia and a largely flat performance in European markets.

Just before the Christmas break, investors are still faced with the prospect of a federal budget for 2013 with a net negative $500 billion adjustment that kicks in Jan. 1, if lawmakers in Washington do not reach a compromise agreement before then.

House members went home Thursday after a plan proposed by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, did not garner enough support for a vote.

By close of trading in a holiday-shortened trading session, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 51.76 points or 0.39 percent to 13,139.08. The Nasdaq lost 8.41 points or 0.28 percent to 3,012.60.

The Standard & Poor's 500 shed 3.49 points or 0.24 percent to 1,426.66.

In the shortened session, 1,195 shares advanced and 1,786 declined on a volume of 1.2 billion shares traded.

The 10-year treasury note was off 2/32 to yield 1.777 percent.

Against the yen, the dollar was higher at 84.84 from Friday's 84.24. The euro fell to $1.3187 from $1.3189.

In London, the FTSE 100 index added 0.24 percent, 14.19 points, to 5,954.18.

Fiscal cliff would hit poor hardest

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Economic researchers at the Tax Policy Center said low income U.S. households with children would be the hardest hit by the so-called "fiscal cliff."

The impact of the federal budget that would become law Jan. 1 if a compromise deal is not reached by House Republicans and the White House is not equal among income brackets.

The budget includes $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts. Spending cuts generally affect lower-income earners the hardest.

In this case, for example, the Head Start program would serve about 100,000 fewer children and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program would lose $271 million out of a budget of $3.4 billion.

Then there are the tax hikes. "It is striking how large some of the (tax) increases are," said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, which is a think-tank jointly run by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institution, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Wealthier Americans will pay more in total, but less in terms of a percentage of their income, the Journal said.

Households earning $10,000 to $20,000 stand to lose between $68 and $605 if the "fiscal cliff" comes to pass.

Couples earning between $10,000 and $20,000 that have a child would see a much more substantial difference, as they would lose $1,324 out of a $2,761 in tax rebates and credits.

In the next bracket up from that, couples with a child earning between $20,000 and $30,000 would owe an average of $1,408 in federal income tax, a shift from the current rules in which they would be paid an average of $15.

On the other side of the income spectrum, those earning $1 million or more would see a tax hike of 24 percent. The average tax bill for those earning more than $1 million would climb by $200,000 the Journal said.

CEO says Herbalife not a pyramid scheme

LOS ANG, Calif., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- The chief executive officer of Herbalife said the company from Los Angeles would defend itself against a claim it was a pyramid scheme.

"We're going to disabuse the financial community of a presentation that was based on falsehoods and a misunderstanding about our business," said CEO Michael Johnson, referring to a claim by hedge fund manager Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management in New York that Herbalife was a pyramid scheme.

The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that Herbalife has lost 40 percent of its share value since the claim was made. Share values dropped 5 percent Monday morning in a holiday-shortened trading session, the Times said.

The Times said Herbalife was a multi-level marketing firm with individual distributor in countries.

Multi-level marketing is a sales strategy in which sales persons get paid commission on their own sales and are also paid for sales made by persons they recruit to work for the company.

But Johnson said calling Herbalife a pyramid scheme was "so completely wrong."

The firm has scheduled a meeting with investors and market analysts for Jan. 10 to refute Ackman's claim against Herbalife, which markets vitamins and diet supplements.

Microsoft's Windows 8 not driving PC sales

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Industry analysts said Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 8 was not driving U.S. sales of computers in the manner of previous software releases.

With the release of software upgrades in the past, consumers were far more likely than today to reach into their bank accounts and spend on a new computer to go with the new operating system, The New York Times reported Monday.

A combination of factors has sneaked up on computer sales this time around, including some criticism of the Windows 8, a tight economy and the popularity of tablets and smartphones, which is stealing some of the thunder from personal computer sales.

"I think everybody would have hoped for a better start. The thing is, this market is not the same market that Windows 7 or Vista or even XP launched into," said industry analyst Stephen Baker at NPD.

"What you're seeing is not a retirement of PCs [personal computers], but a push-out in the replacement cycle. If people used to buy PCs every four years and are now buying them every five years, that could lower PC sales by 20 percent over time. That's substantial," said another industry analyst, A.M. Sacconaghi at Sanford C. Bernstein.

Microsoft spokesman Mark Martin declined to comment. Microsoft executives in the past have said Windows 8 sales are slow because it is such a departure from previous operating systems.

Reflecting the changing market, however, is Amazon's list of its most popular electronic products. Only five computers were in the top 100 this week with only one of those offering Windows 8 as an option and one running Windows 7, the Times said.

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