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Stocks Slip On Fed, US Consumer Worries

Investors are waiting for several economic reports later this week that could influence whether the Federal Reserve will pare back its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program. The program is designed to keep interest rates low and stimulate the economy.

"When you look at how markets have performed this year, some investors may have decided to cash in, put their feet up and drink eggnog," said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager with Federated Investors.

On Friday, the government will release its monthly job market survey, one of the most closely watched indicators of the U.S. economy. Economists expect that employers created 180,000 jobs last month while the unemployment rate remained steady at 7.2 percent, according to FactSet, a financial information provider.

Investors have seen encouraging economic news recently. A trade group reported Monday that manufacturing was growing in the U.S. at the fastest pace in two and a half years. The group also said factories were hiring at the quickest rate in 18 months.

A strong economy is good for corporate profits a¿¿ and stocks a¿¿ over the long term. But if the economy is getting stronger, it means the Fed could pull back its stimulus, which has supported financial markets. The Fed's huge bond-buying program has been giving investors an incentive to buy stocks by making bonds look more expensive in comparison.

"The concern in the near term is that, since the economic data is picking up steam, the Fed could pull back as soon as January," Young said.

On Thursday, investors will consider an updated report on U.S. economic growth. Economists expect the economy expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate last quarter.

A key worry for investors is how willing U.S. consumers are to spend during the holiday shopping season, which is just getting underway.

A record number of people shopped over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, the National Retail Federation said Monday. However, the average amount spent by each shopper fell compared with the same period last year. It was the first decline since the trade group began tracking the figures in 2006.

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