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Dec. 28, 2012 at 3:10 PM
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Wall Street cautious with 'cliff' impasse

NEW YORK, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Positive economic data failed to bring stock indexes out of a four-day slump Friday, as investors focused on "fiscal cliff" talks in Washington.

Investors fear an economic drop would be unavoidable if lawmakers don't reach an agreement regarding tax issues, spending cuts and the budget deficit by Tuesday.

On the positive side, the National Association of Realtors said their pending home sales index rose in November, climbing 1.7 percent for the third consecutive monthly gain.

Similarly, the Chicago Business Barometer rose for the third consecutive month in December, albeit from a 3-year low in September, an Institute for Supply Management report said.

Major market indexes were in the red, Friday. In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 91.07 points -- 0.7 percent -- to 13,005.24. The Nasdaq lost 11.95 points (0.4 percent) to 2,973.95.

The Standard and Poor's 500 shed 8.80 points (0.62 percent) to 1,409.30.

The 10-year treasury note was up 7/32 to yield 1.714 percent.

The euro fell to $1.3219 from Thursday's $1.3237. The dollar fell to 86.07 yen from 86.11 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index added 0.7 percent, 72.20 points, to 10,395.18.

In London, the FTSE 100 index dropped 0.49 percent, 28.93 points, to 5,925.37.

Japan industrial output slumps in November

TOKYO, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Japan Friday announced industrial output, hurt by slowing exports, fell 1.7 percent in November from October, while November consumer prices eased.

November core consumer prices were off 0.1 percent year-on-year, Kyodo News reported.

The numbers are the first since the new government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took over this week with a mandate to kick-start the recession-threatened economy, already burdened by deflation or falling prices, and declining exports. The devastating earthquake in March of last year also has hurt the economy.

The November output decline was the first in two months, the government said.

New Finance Minister Taro Aso met Friday with Masaaki Shirakawa, governor of the Bank of Japan, the country's central bank, Kyodo reported.

The central bank has been urged to aggressively ease monetary policies and raise the inflation target to prevent the world's third largest economy from slipping into another recession.

"We have to absolutely prevent the bottom from falling out of the economy," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga quoted Abe as saying during an extraordinary Cabinet meeting.

"This is a clear indication that deflation is really ingrained in Japanese economy and it is inevitable that the central bank will have to do something to tackle it," Martin Schulz of Fujitsu Research Institute told the BBC.

Online retail jumps on Christmas Day

NEW YORK, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Online retail traffic rose 27 percent on Christmas Day compared to Christmas Day 2011, a U.S. marketing firm reported Friday.

Experian Marketing Services said 115.5 million visitors browsed the top retail Web sites on Dec. 25.

Overall, holiday shopping online was up 10 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, the market research firm said.

Amazon.com received the most traffic on Christmas Day with 24,657,838 visitors. Walmart was No. 2 on the list with 7,359,685 visitors.

The top 10 also included Target, BestBuy, Macy's, Sears, Fandango, Kohls.com, Apple Store and JC Penney.

The data suggest an increasing number of shoppers were treated to gift cards on Christmas Day.

Visa gift cards topped the list in online searches in the week ending Dec. 22, Experian said.

Among gift card searches, Visa was followed by iTunes, Amazon, Walmart, Starbucks, American Express, Vanilla, Redbox, Kroger and Mastercard.

U.S. pending home sales index rises

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Pending Home Sales Index rose for the third consecutive month in November, a trade group in Washington said Friday.

The National Association of Realtors said the index, which tracks contracts of intention, rose 1.7 percent and hit its highest level since April 2010.

The index for October was revised lower to 104.6. In November, the index reached 106.4, 9.8 percent gain over November 2011.

As of November, the index has shown year-over-year improvements for 19 consecutive months, a sign of sustained improvement in the housing market.

"Even with market frictions related to the mortgage process, home contract activity continues to improve. Home sales are recovering now based solely on fundamental demand and favorable affordability conditions," Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, said in a statement.

NAR said the pending home sales index rise 5.2 percent in the Northeast to 83.3.

The index rose a marginal 0.1 percent in the Midwest to 103.8. In the South it was unchanged at 117.2 and in the West, the index rose 4.2 percent to 110.1.

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