US STOCKS-Wall Street ticks lower on 'fiscal cliff' stalemate

Reuters Middle East

* Investors seek clarity on fiscal negotiations

* Third-quarter GDP tops expectations; market barely reacts

* NYSE Euronext shares soar, ICE to buy for $8.2 billion

* Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all fall about 0.1 pct

NEW YORK, Dec 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged slightly

lower on Thursday as investors fretted that a deal on the U.S.

budget wouldn't come as soon as they had hoped after President

Barack Obama threatened to veto a controversial Republican plan.

The market barely reacted to a round of strong data,

including on gross domestic product growth and housing,

suggesting talks to avert the "fiscal cliff," steep tax hikes

and spending cuts due to take effect in 2013, remain the primary

focus for markets.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said Wednesday

his chamber would pass a proposal that spares many wealthy

Americans from tax hikes needed to balance the budget. Obama has

threatened to veto the plan if it passes, while some Republicans

oppose any deal featuring tax increases.

"The closer we get to the end of the year without a deal,

the more optimism is going to evaporate," said Todd

Schoenberger, managing partner at LandColt Capital in New York.

"Volatility is going to be extreme until there's a deal, and the

probability of being caught on the downside is much greater than

being on the upside."

While investors have hoped for an agreement soon between

policy makers over the fiscal cliff, this seems unlikely as

wrangling continues over the details.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 18.74

points, or 0.14 percent, at 13,233.23. The Standard & Poor's 500

Index was down 0.84 points, or 0.06 percent, at 1,434.97.

The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 4.18 points, or 0.14

percent, at 3,040.18.

NYSE Euronext was the S&P 500's top percentage

gainer, surging 35 percent to $32.56 after

IntercontinentalExchange Inc said it would buy the

operator of the New York Stock Exchange for $8.2 billion. ICE

shares rose 1.3 percent to $130.06.

Stocks rallied earlier in the week on signs of progress in

the negotiations, led by banking and energy shares, which tend

to outperform in times of economic expansion. On signs of

complications, however, many have turned to hedging their bets

through options and exchange-traded funds.

The U.S. economy grew 3.1 percent in the third quarter,

faster than previously estimated, while the number of Americans

filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected

in the latest week.

"It is great to see this kind of growth, but investors know

it could all disappear if there's no deal on the cliff,"

Schoenberger said. "Macro data may be on the back burner for a

while."

Existing home sales jumped 5.9 percent in November, more

than expected, and by the fastest monthly place in three years.

And the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's December index of

business conditions in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region rose to 8.1

from -10.7 in November. Analysts were looking for a read of

-3.

Google Inc agreed to sell set-top TV box maker

Motorola Home to Arris Group Inc for $2.35 billion in

cash and stock. Arris rose 6.6 percent to $15.51 while Google

was little changed.

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