* Investors seek clarity on fiscal negotiations
* Third-quarter GDP tops expectations; market barely reacts
* NYSE Euronext shares soar, ICE to buy for $8.2 billion
* Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq all fall about 0.1 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Dec 20 U.S. stocks edged slightly
lower on Thursday as investors fretted that a deal on the U.S.
budget wouldn't come as soon as they had hoped after President
Barack Obama threatened to veto a controversial Republican plan.
The market barely reacted to a round of strong data,
including on gross domestic product growth and housing,
suggesting talks to avert the "fiscal cliff," steep tax hikes
and spending cuts due to take effect in 2013, remain the primary
focus for markets.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said Wednesday
his chamber would pass a proposal that spares many wealthy
Americans from tax hikes needed to balance the budget. Obama has
threatened to veto the plan if it passes, while some Republicans
oppose any deal featuring tax increases.
"The closer we get to the end of the year without a deal,
the more optimism is going to evaporate," said Todd
Schoenberger, managing partner at LandColt Capital in New York.
"Volatility is going to be extreme until there's a deal, and the
probability of being caught on the downside is much greater than
being on the upside."
While investors have hoped for an agreement soon between
policy makers over the fiscal cliff, this seems unlikely as
wrangling continues over the details.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 18.74
points, or 0.14 percent, at 13,233.23. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index was down 0.84 points, or 0.06 percent, at 1,434.97.
The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 4.18 points, or 0.14
percent, at 3,040.18.
NYSE Euronext was the S&P 500's top percentage
gainer, surging 35 percent to $32.56 after
IntercontinentalExchange Inc said it would buy the
operator of the New York Stock Exchange for $8.2 billion. ICE
shares rose 1.3 percent to $130.06.
Stocks rallied earlier in the week on signs of progress in
the negotiations, led by banking and energy shares, which tend
to outperform in times of economic expansion. On signs of
complications, however, many have turned to hedging their bets
through options and exchange-traded funds.
The U.S. economy grew 3.1 percent in the third quarter,
faster than previously estimated, while the number of Americans
filing new claims for jobless benefits rose more than expected
in the latest week.
"It is great to see this kind of growth, but investors know
it could all disappear if there's no deal on the cliff,"
Schoenberger said. "Macro data may be on the back burner for a
Existing home sales jumped 5.9 percent in November, more
than expected, and by the fastest monthly place in three years.
And the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia's December index of
business conditions in the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region rose to 8.1
from -10.7 in November. Analysts were looking for a read of
Google Inc agreed to sell set-top TV box maker
Motorola Home to Arris Group Inc for $2.35 billion in
cash and stock. Arris rose 6.6 percent to $15.51 while Google
was little changed.