Stocks Finish Lower as 'Fiscal-Cliff' Deadline Nears

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stocks finished Monday's pre-holiday shortened session with losses as "fiscal cliff" talks in Washington remain stalled.

Discussions over striking a budget deal before the Jan. 1 deadline aren't likely to resume until Thursday at the earliest as Congress and President Obama take a Christmas break.

Sen. Joe Lieberman said over the weekend that "it's the first time that I feel it's more likely we'll go over the cliff than not," following House Speaker John Boehner's failure last week to get Republicans to follow his back-up plan on the so-called fiscal cliff.

"Hopes faded long ago for anything meaningful coming out of this fiscal cliff debate, but now we're seeing downright pessimism in the market," said Sonny Tahiliani, managing director at MacroMoves. "Lawmakers may want to revisit the CBO's projections on the hit to GDP and seek to connect the dots, because risking a recession inside of an output gap is dangerous territory. The Fed will be forced to act in a bolder way should compromise fail to materialize."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 51.76 points, or 0.4%, to 13,139.08.

Losers trumped winners on the Dow 25 to five. The most prominent decliners were Hewlett Packard ( HPQ) and Microsoft ( MSFT).

Alcoa ( AA) and Home Depot ( HD) were the Dow's biggest gainers.

The S&P 500 fell 3.49 points, or 0.2%, to 1,426.66. The Nasdaq declined 8.41 points, or 0.3%, to 3,012.59.

Stock markets in the U.S. closed Monday at 1 p.m. EST, and are closed Tuesday for the Christmas Day holiday.

The economic calendar in the U.S. Monday was bare.

In overseas markets, the FTSE 100 in London rose 0.2% on Monday while the DAX in Germany declined 0.2%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed the trading session with a gain of 0.1%. Japanese markets were closed.

Gold for February delivery fell 40 cents to $1,59.70 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. February crude oil contracts were down 9 cents to $88.57 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was trading at 1.77%. The U.S. dollar index was at 79.64.

In corporate news , federal agencies are examining allegations that Regions Financial ( RF) improperly classified loans that went bad during the financial crisis, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing depositions filed as part of a civil lawsuit against the bank.

Regions shares rose 1 cent to $6.99.

Google's ( GOOG) newly acquired Motorola Mobility unit is working on a handset -- known internally as the "X phone" -- in an effort to provide more competition for Apple, the Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter.

The stock fell 0.9% to $709.50.

Shares of Research In Motion ( RIMM) continued their descent, ending down 2.8% to $10.61 on Monday, after the BlackBerry maker said in an earnings conference call last week that it would change the way it charges customers service fees, putting a key source of revenue at risk.

Fortress Investment ( FIG)said Monday that co-founder Robert Kauffman plans to retire.

The stock rose 1.7% to $4.20.

Aegerion Pharmaceuticals ( AEGR) received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for Juxtapid capsules in patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia, a rare cholesterol illness.

Aegerion shares fell 1.8% to $25.25.

Shanghai authorities said the level of antibiotics used in chicken served by Yum! Brands ( YUM) KFC was in accordance with official limits.

The stock rose 1.7% on Monday to $64.99.

Herbalife ( HLF) shares fell 4.4% following steep declines on Friday after William Ackman, the head of Pershing Square Capital Management, unveiled a 334-page presentation on why he feels the supplements maker is a pyramid scheme worth $0.

-- Written by Joseph Woelfel

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