Stocks inch lower as investors wait on budget


NEW YORK — Stocks ended the week more or less where they started it. Investors were watching closely while lawmakers in Washington worked at thrashing out a budget agreement.

After inching 3.76 points higher on Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average closed at 13,025.58. That’s a gain of just 16 points for the week, one of the Dow’s smallest moves this year.

Along the way, the market had several sharp turns both up and down after key figures in the talks, such as House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama, offered contrasting views about how well the talks were going.

The Standard and Poor’s index edged up 0.23 point to 1,416.25. The index is up 0.5 percent for the week. The Nasdaq composite was down 1.79 points to 3,010.24. It gained 1.46 percent for the week.

The main driver for markets this week has been the talks between the White House and Congress over the “fiscal cliff,” a series of sharp government spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to start Jan. 1 unless an agreement is reached to cut the budget deficit. Economists say those measures, if implemented, could push the U.S. economy back into a recession.

Optimism that a deal will be done was greeted with rallies, while pessimistic comments from lawmakers were followed by sell-offs.

“Right now the market is just going to be held hostage as to what happens in the next five hours, versus what’s going to happen in the next five years,” said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management, in Fort Lee, N.J.

Obama argued Friday that allowing taxes to rise for the middle class would amount to a “lump of coal” for Christmas, while Boehner declared negotiations to surmount a looming fiscal cliff are going “almost nowhere.”

Speaking at a toy factory, the president said Republicans should extend existing Bush-era tax rates for households earning $250,000 or less, while allowing increases to kick in for the wealthy. On Capitol Hill, Boehner argued that Obama’s latest offer — to raise revenue by $1.6 trillion over the next decade — would be a “crippling blow” to an economy that is still struggling to find its footing.

“My sense is that investors are going to be busy reading headlines every day for the next three weeks,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Group in Chicago.

Ablin said he expects policy makers to reach a temporary agreement on the budget before year-end, before coming to a “Grand Bargain” next year. He believes improving consumer confidence and rising house prices will underpin the economy and support demand for stocks.

Americans cut back on spending last month and saw no growth in their income, reflecting disruption from superstorm Sandy that could hold back economic growth in the final months of the year.

The Commerce Depart-ment reported consumer spending dropped 0.2 percent in October. That’s down from an increase of 0.8 percent in September and the weakest showing since May.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed at 1.62 percent.