Stocks Flat as Fiscal Cliff Talks Eyed

U.S. stocks opened little changed on Thursday as lawmakers readied to continue budget talks in Washington and economic data had jobless claims falling. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately rose 4.03 points to 13,118.62. The S&P 500 index was off 0.15 point at 1,419.68. The Nasdaq Composite shed 1.33 points to 2,988.83.

President Barack Obama was flying back to Washington on Thursday and the top Republican in Congress planned to speak with House of Representatives lawmakers as the clock ticked toward a year-end deadline for action to avert the looming “fiscal cliff” tax hikes and spending cuts.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment aid fell last week to nearly its lowest level in 4 1/2 years, a possible sign that employers have picked up the pace of hiring. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

German luxury automaker Audi plans to keep spending on new vehicles, plants and technology to increase market share as a prolonged weakening in European markets forces layoffs and factory closures at volume manufacturers.

Italy’s borrowing costs rose slightly Thursday in an auction of six-month bonds held in the wake of Premier Mario Monti’s resignation and uncertainty about his participation in the campaign for February’s elections. The Italian Treasury sold the €8.5 billion ($11.24 billion) in paper Thursday, but the interest rate charged on the bond was 0.949 percent, up from 0.919 percent in November’s auction. Demand was 1.57 times the amount on offer.

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