Updated from 8:32 p.m. EDT with conclusion of debate

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney squared off Wednesday night in the first presidential debate as investors hoped for more clarity on who may be the favorite to win the election and lead Washington through a series of important fiscal decisions in the next term.

Romney and Obama engaged in a 90-minute debate format that featured wonky policy discussions on taxes, Medicare and getting the U.S. middle class back to work, but there was little debate on how to solve the impending fiscal cliff.

Romney burst into the discussion on the offensive as many political experts said the debates signaled his final chance to turn negative poll numbers to his favor.

Obama delivered a calmer performance, compared to the more aggressive Romney, and mostly stuck to his stump-speech talking points.

PBS' Jim Lehrer, who moderated the debate, allowed both candidates to speak well over designated time allocations.

At one point, Lehrer repeatedly attempted to complete a sentence asking for Romney to finish, but the Republican nominee refused to give up ground. At another point, Obama told Lehrer, "I had five seconds before you interrupted me." Lehrer allowed the president to finish, and then responded, "Your five seconds went away a long time ago."

In previous debates, which were hosted by the Commission on Presidential Debates, the moderator hasn't disclosed questions to either campaign.

Hot-button economic issues between Obama and Romney since the national conventions had included the auto bailouts of General Motors ( GM) and Chrysler, the future of coal as an energy staple (spurred by layoffs announced by Alpha Natural Resources ( ANR)), the fiscal cliff and the United States' sluggish gross domestic product.

The major U.S. stock averages posted moderate gains Wednesday ahead of the debates. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 12 points, or 0.09%, to 13,495. The S&P 500 was up 5 points, or 0.36%, at 1451, while the Nasdaq added 15 points, or 0.49%, to 3135.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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