Markets Remain Concerned About Europe and Fiscal Cliff

Happy Veterans Day.

Stocks are headed lower today as concerns about Europe and the fiscal cliff continue to linger. At roughly halfway through the trading session, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) is down by 22 points, or 0.17%.

In the United States, all eyes are now firmly focused on whether or not the government can put together a deal that avoids the fiscal cliff. A recent poll of economists done by Reuters suggests that partisan fighting over the fiscal cliff will invariably hurt the economy regardless of whether or not the actual plunge is averted. The CEO of AT&T (NYS: T) , for instance, said on Wednesday that uncertainty surrounding the issue is acting as a "throttle on this country's growth."

Meanwhile, European finance ministers are meeting in Brussels today to decide whether or not to release the next tranche of financial assistance to Greece. The decision was largely contingent on the ailing country's ability to pass a new austerity budget, which it accomplished today.

Also in Europe, economists continue to warn that Spain is in dire need of a bailout. A former board member of the European Central Bank told CNBC that the country needed one "yesterday." Even though Spain is in the midst of a recession and unemployment has soared to 25%, its leaders have nevertheless turned down assistance for fear of the strings that would presumably be attached to any bailout.

In corporate news, investment bank Jefferies Group (NYS: JEF) has agreed to be purchased by Leucadia National (NYS: LUK) , an investment firm that's sometimes referred to as the baby Berkshire Hathaway for its value-investing approach. Shares of Jefferies are accordingly trading higher by more than 12%.

Shares in J. C. Penney (NYS: JCP) , alternatively, are trading nearly 10% lower today. The reaction is a continuation of the market's disappointment with the retailer's third-quarter results, which showed a 26% decline in same-store sales relative to the same period last year.

Finally, it was reported today that employees at Wal-Mart (NYS: WMT) have agreed to foot more of the bill for their health insurance premiums. The world's largest retailer reports earnings for the fiscal third quarter this Thursday.

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