'Cliff' pessimism delivers US stocks another loss

US stocks sank for a fifth straight day Friday, showing more doubts that politicians will be able to agree on a deal to fix the fiscal cliff with only days before the year-end deadline.

Shares were cautiously lower for most of the day after President Barack Obama returned from his vacation early to try to broker a deal with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House.

But without any positive signs late in the day and the weekend looming, traders gave up and sold off at a stronger pace in the last half hour.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished off 158.20 points (1.21 percent) at 12,938.11.

The broad-market S&P 500 lost 15.67 (1.10 percent) to 1,402.43, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite shed 25.60 points (0.86 percent) to 2,960.31.

"In the end, fiscal-cliff concerns dominated. No deal meant more worry, and we sold off," said Ryan Detrick of Schaeffer's Investment Research.

All 30 Dow blue chips were in the red, led by Hewlett-Packard (-2.6 percent), which was pushed lower after the SEC said it was looking into its subsidiary Autonomy.

In November, HP accused Autonomy of fraudulent accounting that was uncovered only after its $10 billion purchase of the British software firm in 2011.

Also on the Dow, Exxon lost 2.0 percent and Chevron 1.9 percent.

A rare gainer for the day was embattled bookseller Barnes & Noble, which, although reporting that its Nook e-reader had disappointing Christmas sales, got a 4.3 percent boost on the announcement that British publisher Pearson would take a five percent stake in its Nook unit for $89.5 million.

Herbalife, under attack for weeks from short-selling hedge funds, bounced back with a 3.9 percent gain.

Facebook, which opened more than 2.5 percent lower on a report by audience tracker AppData.com that some 3.5 million people had stopped using its photo-sharing app Instagram daily over the past week, regained ground to finish with a loss of just 0.5 percent.

Facebook acquired Instagram earlier this year. The original price was pegged at $1 billion but the final value was less because of a decline in the social network's share price.

Bond prices rose. The 10-year US Treasury yield slipped to 1.71 from 1.72 percent late Thursday, while the 30-year edged lower to 2.88 percent from 2.89 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.

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