Stocks end flat as rally over tax cuts fades

CHIP CUTTER - AP Business Writers,MATTHEW CRAFT - AP Business Writers
December 7, 2010
President Barack Obama is visible on a television screen as trader Sean Spain checks his screens in the Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
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President Barack Obama is visible on a television screen as trader Sean Spain checks his screens in the Goldman Sachs booth on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010.

Stocks closed mixed Tuesday after enthusiasm over a deal to extend tax cuts faded.

Bond prices fell sharply as traders anticipated the tax cuts would boost economic growth but also lead to ballooning budget deficits. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note jumped to 3.13 percent, its highest level since June 22.

President Barack Obama and Republican leaders agreed to a broad package of tax cuts and an extension of unemployment benefits. The compromise plan helped send stocks higher in the morning, briefly pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 index to its highest level since the peak of the financial crisis in September 2008.

Private economists began raising their expectations for economic growth in response to the tax cut deal. Bond traders focused on another factor: the widening budget deficit. Estimates vary widely, but some put the total cost of the package in the range of $900 billion over the next two years.

Slashing tax receipts to the Treasury without a plan to fill the shortfall is "the height of irresponsibility," said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, in a note to clients.

The extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, which were due to expire at the end of the year, removed a major source of uncertainty for financial markets. The deal announced late Monday also included a one-year break on payroll taxes which will put money directly in Americans' pockets. The same is true for the extension of unemployment benefits, which economists see as an effective way to stimulate the economy by getting people spending again.

"The deal in Washington is a big deal," said Kim Caughey Forrest, equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group. "Investors really do like certainty, and they really do like certainty around taxes."

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3, or 0.03 percent, to close at 11,359.16. It had been up as many as 89 points before turning lower in the afternoon.

The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.6, or 0.05 percent, to 1,223.75. The S&P closed within 2 points of its 2010 high reached on Nov. 5.

The Nasdaq composite index rose 3.6, or 0.1 percent, to 2,598.49.

Treasury prices fell sharply, sending their yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.13 percent from 2.93 percent late Monday. The yield on the 10-year note is a widely used benchmark for interest rates on loans including mortgages.

Citigroup Inc. rose 3.8 percent to $4.62 after the government said late Monday it reached a deal to sell its remaining stake in the bank for a $12 billion profit. Nicor Inc. jumped 4.3 percent to $48.79 after the natural gas distributor said it had agreed to be acquired by AGL Resources Inc. for about $2.38 billion in cash and stock.

Shares of New York Times Co. rose 4 percent to $9.76 after the newspaper publisher said declines in print advertising sales are slowing and expenses are falling.

Investors were also encouraged by news out of Europe. European stock markets rose after finance ministers from the 16 nations that use the euro did not rule out increasing their $1 trillion bailout fund. Ireland also passed a budget with steep tax hikes aimed at slashing its deficit.

The dollar was up 0.5 percent against an index of six other currencies. It had been down as much as 0.4 percent earlier in the day before recouping its losses by midday.

Rising stocks were even with declining ones on the New York Stock Exchange. Consolidated trading volume was 7.6 billion shares.