Lackluster Housing Data Sinks Stocks

Markets declined slightly in afternoon trading, given little progress on the fiscal cliff and uninspiring news from homebuilders. The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index rose to 47 in December from 45 in November, but that still doesn't indicate that a majority of builders feel optimistic about the market. In another report, U.S. housing starts fell 3% in November to a seasonally adjusted level of 861,000 annually. This is 22% higher than it was a year ago, so there's strong growth in the industry, but momentum may be slowing as we careen toward the fiscal cliff.

The so-so housing numbers have failed to give investors confidence in the markets, and with 30 minutes left in trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) is down 0.42%, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) has fallen 0.47%.

Companies that benefit from the housing sector have been the hardest-hit today. Alcoa (NYSE: AA  ) and Home Depot (NYSE: HD  ) are down 3% and 1.4%, respectively, while Bank of America (NYSE: BAC  ) has slipped about 1.3%. These stocks have surged recently on the improvement in housing, and now that numbers seem to be leveling off, investors are getting concerned. I think some of the slowdown may be due to the fiscal cliff and concern about a recession, so this could be a valley before the recovery of housing gains momentum in 2013.

On the plus side, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) rose 0.7% after agreeing to sell its stake in Clearwire (UNKNOWN: CLWR.DL  ) . The mobile operator agreed to buy the company for $2.2 billlion, and both Intel and Comcast agreed to sell their significant stakes in the company. Now, SoftBank just needs to come through on its $20.1 billion stake in Sprint to make the rest of the acquisition complete.

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