Stocks Mildly Lower at Start

U.S. stocks began modestly lower on Thursday as investors lock in gains after a rally Wednesday, which was spurred by a deal by U.S. lawmakers to avert a “fiscal cliff” of austerity measures that had been due to kick in this year.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average lately fell 39.39 points to 13,373.16. The S&P 500 index declined 3.13 points to 1,459.29. The Nasdaq Composite lost 6.73 points to 3,105.53.

Private-sector employers added more new jobs than expected last month even as a potential budget crisis loomed, helping the job market end 2012 on a high note, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Thursday. The ADP National Employment Report showed the private sector added 215,000 jobs in December, comfortably above economists’ expectation of a 133,000 gain.

Target says its fourth-quarter earnings will meet or possibly beat the low end of its prior forecast, even as a key December sales figure fell a bit short of analysts’ expectations. Total sales for December rose slightly to $10.21 billion. Sales were also up slightly for the quarter to date to $16.4 billion. Year-to-date sales increased 2.7 percent to $65.99 billion. Target Corp.’s forecast for the fourth quarter is for adjusted earnings between $1.64 and $1.74 per share.

Hormel Foods Inc. (NYSE:HRL) said Thursday it’ll pay $700 million to buy Skippy peanut butter from Unilever United States Inc., a unit of Unilever PLC (NYSE:UL).

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