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BUDGET IMPASSE LOOMS LARGE

Associated Press

NEW YORK - U.S. stocks closed lower after uneven trading Tuesday as fears about the "fiscal cliff" and Greece tipped major indexes between gains and losses.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down closed down 58.90 points, or 0.5 percent, at 12,756.18. It would have been lower without support from Home Depot, whose stock jumped 3.6 percent after the big-box retailer beat expectations for its fiscal third-quarter earnings. Home Depot rose $2.22 to $63.38.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 5.50 points, or 0.4 percent, to 1,374.53. The Nasdaq composite index fell 20.37 points, or 0.7 percent, to 2,883.89.

Stocks had opened lower after European leaders postponed the latest aid package for Greece. The Dow turned positive in the first hour of trading and rose solidly through the morning, gaining as much as 83 points. Starting about 2 p.m., the average slid steadily into the red.

Investors are trading against the backdrop of the "fiscal cliff," a set of U.S. government spending cuts and tax increases that will take effect automatically at the start of next year unless U.S. leaders reach a compromise before then.

"The longer we sit and do nothing" about the nation's fiscal issues, "the more this market is going to oscillate between positive 40 and negative 60," said Craig Johnson, senior technical research strategist with Piper Jaffray & Co. in Minneapolis.

Traders in Europe are concerned because finance ministers postponed $40 billion in desperately needed aid for Greece. The news surprised investors. A day earlier, there was word that leaders had prepared a "positive" report on Greece, making it appear likely that the aid would be released.

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