Updated from 12:58 p.m. EST
Stocks backed off their earlier highs Wednesday afternoon as a bailout plan for the U.S. auto sector made headway in the House of Representatives but saw pointed opposition in the Senate.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
, up about 188 points earlier in the day, was edging down 2.5 points at 8688, and the
was up 2 points at 890. The
was gaining 4 points at 1551.
House Democrats finalized an agreement for a $14 billion bailout for the
Big Three automakers
But the plan, under which the government would draw from an existing loan program meant to help the automakers build fuel-efficient vehicles, is facing pushback from skeptical Republicans in the Senate.
In economic data, the Commerce Department reported a 1.1% decline in
wholesale inventories in October
, wider than the 0.2% cutback predicted by economists and the biggest inventory decline by wholesalers since November 2001.
According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, its Market Composite Index, a measure of mortgage loan application volume, was 796.8 in the week ended Dec. 5, a decrease of 7.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis from 857.7 one week earlier. The refinance share of mortgage activity is now 73.7% of total applications, up from 69.1% the previous week. Meanwhile, credit watch agency TransUnion reported that average bank
credit card debt
in the third quarter increased nearly 1.6% over the second quarter and 6% from the third quarter of 2007 nationwide.
In company news, insurance behemoth
owes Wall Street firms as much as $10 billion for speculative trades that went south, according to a report in
The Wall Street Journal
. The trades, which the company argues are "credit protection instruments", were not previously detailed, and thus the losses aren't covered in the government's $150 billion bailout package. It remains to be seen how AIG plans to pay them off. AIG's shares were on the decline Wednesday morning.
announced a plan to cut 14,000 jobs and reduce spending to $4 billion from $9 billion in 2009 in light of falling prices for commodities. Shares were soaring more than 20% Wednesday.
on the other hand was falling some 15% after the video-game maker cut its forecast for fiscal 2009 for the second time in two months late Tuesday. The stock received downgrades at Bank of America and Smith Barney, amongst other
Shifting to commodities, crude oil was rising $2.25 to $44.32 a barrel. Gold was gaining $35.20 to $809.40 an ounce.
The Department of Energy reported that U.S. crude oil inventories increased about 400,000 barrels in the week ended Dec. 5 over the week prior. "At 320.8 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are in the upper half of the average range for this time of year," the department said.
OPEC is scheduled to meet next week to evaluate the effectiveness of its earlier decision to cut production targets by 1.5 million barrels per day, and to weigh the need for more cuts. Another OPEC production cut could help stabilize oil prices that have fallen with global economic hardships.
"They were promising a big surprise in these cuts and we rallied on it - and now it would have to be amazing," says Phil Flynn, energy analyst and general market analyst at Alaron.
"It remains unclear whether production cuts so far are enough to avoid a counter-seasonal inventory build in the fourth quarter of 2008, a build that would add to downward price pressure over the winter," according to a short-term outlook report this week by the Energy Information Administration. However, "The position of some OPEC members at the upcoming meeting may be influenced by a desire to avoid excessive production cuts that might further tighten the market and trigger a sharp price rebound that could hurt the world economy," wrote the EIA.
were trading higher Wednesday.
In other economic news, three-month dollar-based London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) broke through its low for the year Wednesday morning, falling 6.5 basis points to 2.09875%. LIBOR, the rate at which banks borrow funds from other banks, is the world's most widely used benchmark for short-term interest rates.
Meanwhile, the rates for three-month Treasury notes fell below zero -- albeit intermittently -- Wednesday morning. Treasury bill rates turn negative when investors are so risk-averse that they're essentially willing to pay the U.S. government to safeguard their money.
Longer-dated U.S. Treasury securities were recently falling in price. The 10-year was falling 16/32 to yield 2.7%, and the 30-year was giving up 1-12/32, yielding 3.1%. The dollar was of late weaker against the euro and pound, and stronger against the yen.
Overseas, European markets were mixed -- the FTSE in London was down 0.3%, while the DAX in Frankfurt traded up 0.6%, respectively. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei and Hong Kong's Hang Seng both ended higher.
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