Stocks are little-changed in early trading as investors focus on the so-called fiscal cliff and wait for key jobs data tomorrow.
European indexes are broadly higher, led by a gain of almost 1 percent in Germany, after the region's central bank left interest rates unchanged. Asian markets were little changed in the overnight session.
The S&P 500 is now hovering in the middle of its range over the last three months. It defied most expectations by touching a four-year high in mid-September, only to decline by 9 percent in the next two months after worries about government finances led dozens of companies to lower guidance. The main focus now is Washington, where politicians must agree to narrow the budget deficit or trigger tax increases and spending cuts on Jan. 1.
Foreign exchange and commodities are painting a mixed picture. The euro is mostly unchanged against the U.S. dollar, while the Australian and Canadian currencies are slightly higher. The Japanese yen is gaining, a potentially bearish signal. Commodities are also mostly lower as oil, copper, and silver are all down modestly.
In addition to the talks in Washington, attention will focus on U.S. jobs data. Challenger, Gray & Christmas said that planned layoffs rose by more than 9,000 in November, partly because Hostess Brands went bankrupt. The bigger news will be weekly initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET, followed by monthly non-farm payrolls at the same time tomorrow.
In company-specific news, Lululemon Athletica is down by almost 5 percent after warning of slower sales growth. Vera Bradley and Men's Wearhouse are also indicated lower on weak outlook.
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