Stocks Start the Final Trading Day of 2011 Lower

U.S. stocks began the final trading day of the year mildly lower with Europe’s troubles in view.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately fell 14.95 points to 12,272.09. The S&P 500 shed 0.72 point to 1,262.30. The Nasdaq Composite fell 0.51 point to 2,613.23.

Germany’s finance minister says he is confident that Europe’s politicians will manage to stabilize the eurozone in 2012 and keep the continent’s common currency together.

More than a month after coming to power, the new center-right government in Spain has warned that the country’s budget deficit will surpass prior expectations, hitting around 8% for 2011.

Spain’s new conservative government is set to unveil its first austerity measures later Friday as it tries to reassure markets that it has a plan to get a grip on its public finances at the same time as kickstarting an economy saddled with sky-high unemployment.

Oil prices inched higher toward $100 a barrel Friday amid encouraging signs the U.S. economy is slowly improving and continuing tensions between Western powers and Iran. By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for February delivery was up 13 cents to $99.78 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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