Stocks dipped Wednesday, recording their first loss of the week, as President Obama and congressional Republicans sniped at each other and a deadline to avert sweeping tax increases and government spending cuts drew closer.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 98.99 points, or 0.7 percent, at 13,251.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 10.98 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,435.81. The Nasdaq composite index fell 10.17, or 0.3 percent, to 3,044.36.
Obama said he and House Speaker John A. Boehner were "pretty close" to a deal to avoid the combination of tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff. But the president also said congressional Republicans keep finding "ways to say no as opposed to finding ways to say yes."
Boehner, speaking to reporters for less than a minute in a defiant tone, called on Obama to offer a deficit-cutting plan balanced between spending cuts and tax increases.
Over the previous two days, the S&P 500 index had gained more than 2 percent, in part because of optimism about a deal taking shape. That optimism seemed to melt Wednesday, and stocks finished near their lows for the day.
The Commerce Department reported that builders broke ground on fewer homes in November after starting work in October at the fastest pace in four years. Hurricane Sandy likely distorted Northeastern U.S. totals.
Builders began construction of houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000. That was 3 percent less than October's annual rate of 888,000.
Materials stocks fell just 0.5 percent, less than the rest of the market. Industrials fell 0.7 percent. Telecommunications stocks and health-care stocks fared the worst, down 1.2 percent and 1.1 percent.
Oracle, which makes software for businesses, jumped $1.21, or 3.7 percent, to $34.09 after reporting stronger earnings as companies splurged on software and technology.
The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell 0.02 percentage point, to 1.80 percent. The price of oil climbed $1.58, or 1.8 percent, to $89.51 per barrel.
FedEx gained 84 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $93.20. The world's No. 2 package-delivery company lowered its U.S. economic forecast but said it was more confident in its own ability to increase earnings.
Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia gained seven cents to $2.65. The stock had fallen during the day to $2.30, a three-year low, after CEO Lisa Gersh stepped down after less than a year on the job.