NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks closed higher Wednesday, their first gain of the week, as bankshares rose and comments by President Barack Obama made investors optimistic that a quick deal could be made to avoid the fiscal cliff.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 82.71 points to end at 13,034.49. It had been up as much as 137. The Standard and Poor’s 500 closed up 2.23 points to 1,409.28. The Nasdaq composite was down 22.99 points to 2,973.70, held back by a slump in Apple.
Citigroup jumped $2.17, or 6.3 percent, to $36.46 after the bank said it plans to eliminate more than 11,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of its workforce, to cut expenses and improve efficiency. Travelers surged $3.47, or 4.9 percent, to $74 after it announced plans to resume stock buybacks. Travelers temporarily suspended repurchases following Superstorm Sandy while it assessed its exposure to damage claims.
“We can probably solve this in about a week, it’s not that tough,” Obama said in lunchtime remarks to the Business Roundtable in Washington. The comments, made just before noon, helped push the market higher, said Quincy Crosby, a market strategist at Prudential Financial.
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Stocks have largely traded sideways for two weeks as investors wait for developments from Washington on crucial budget talks to avoid the fiscal cliff, a series of sharp government spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to start Jan. 1 unless an agreement is reached to cut the budget deficit. Economists say that the measures, if implemented, could push the U.S. back into recession.
Apple was among the decliners, falling $37.05, or 6.4 percent, to $538.79. Stifel Financial analyst Aaron Rakers said the drop was in part due to comments from AT&T Mobility chief executive officer Ralph de La Vega, which suggested that smartphone activations this quarter were lagging the same period a year ago. The stock has now dropped 23 percent since closing at a record $702.10 in September.
Stocks are still up on the year, after the Federal Reserve extended its bond-buying program in September, offsetting concern that the European debt crisis was set to spread. The Dow has gained 7 percent and S&P 500 has advanced 12 percent.
“The market will hold on to its gains for the year. Given the uncertainty I don’t see any compelling reasons for an increase,” said Brian Gendreau, a market strategist with Cetera Financial Group, a Los Angeles-based broker. “But that could change in a blink. If there’s better-than-expected news from these negotiations, the market could pop.”