Market Buzz: Balancing on the edge of the US ‘fiscal cliff’

A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.(AFP Photo / Andrew Burton)
The US ‘fiscal cliff’ issue maintains its grip on world stocks. Fitch warned it may strip the US of its top AAA rating if it fails to pass a budget deal, adding to investor concerns that the world’s biggest economy could fall back into recession.

A US failure to avert the "fiscal cliff" and raise the debt ceiling before 2013 could mean that Fitch will take a “negative rating action” towards the United States, the rating agency said on Wednesday. The term "fiscal cliff" refers to a set of austerity measures – spending cuts and tax hikes – that will go into effect if legislators in Washington fail to pass a budget that addresses the country’s debt load.

“The Russian market together with the world floors is waiting for the end of the talks over the US budget. But as the holidays are approaching, the interest of traders to this topic is fading,” Liliya Brueva of Investcafe said.

Wednesday trading on Russian floors was mixed, with the RTS rising 0.39% to 1,517.39 and the MICEX going down 0.18% to 1,478.83.

On US floors, the warning by Fitch and disappointing news from the housing market weighed down stocks. Housing starts in the US fell 3% in November to 861,000, the Census Bureau said, short of the expected figure of 894,000.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all closed down between 0.3% and 0.8%.

All major indices in Europe made gains, with French shares leading the region. The CAC 40 was up 0.44%, while London's FTSE 100 added 0.43% and Germany's DAX gained 0.19%.

The investor optimism in Europe was largely due to inspiring news from Germany, where its December IFO index indicating business optimism went up to 102.4 points from 101.4 the previous month.

Japanese stocks fell Thursday as talks to avert a US fiscal crisis stalled. MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was little changed, with Australian shares easing 0.1%, off a 17-month high hit on Wednesday. Seoul shares opened 0.5% higher after Wednesday's presidential election, where the country chose its first female president, Park Geun-Hye, the daughter of the country's former dictator. Many traders are expecting proposals for fresh stimulus measures from Seoul.