US stocks fell Thursday as the deadline for the White House and Republican lawmakers to reach a deal to avert the looming "fiscal cliff" crisis crept closer.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 79.06 points (0.6 percent) at 13,035.53 in late morning trade.
The broad-market S&P 500 dipped 10.20 points (0.72 percent) to 1,409.63, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite lost 19.97 points (0.67 percent) at 2,970.19.
The White House and Congress have until New Year's Eve to reach a compromise on how to avert a year-end crisis that could lead to stiff tax hikes and drastic budget cuts. With the countdown on, a deal remains elusive.
Experts say a failure to strike a compromise could plunge the world's biggest economy into recession.
"Time is running very short for any agreement to alter the current "fiscal cliff" legislation due to take effect January 1," wrote Briefing.com's Dick Green.
"For all but the most risk-tolerant market participants, it is a time for patience rather than action."
Markets were also digesting a sharp drop in consumer confidence in December, traditionally a key driver of the US economy.
In its monthly survey, the Conference Board said the index now stands at 65.1, compared to the downwardly revised 71.5 in November.
Stocks in focus included US auto giant Ford, which said Thursday it would invest $773 million to expand factories across its home state of Michigan, generating 2,350 new jobs, part of a plan to add 12,000 jobs by 2015. It fell 1.9 percent.
US-listed shares of Toyota Motor Corporation climbed 1.8 percent after the Japanese automaker announced Wednesday that it had agreed to pay about $1.1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit launched by US vehicle owners affected by a series of mass recalls.
Microsoft edged 0.3 percent lower after announcing it would open six new stores in the United States in 2013.
On Wednesday, the Dow was down 0.19 percent, while the S&P 500 lost 0.48 percent and the Nasdaq Composite shed 0.74 percent.
Bond prices rose. The 10-year US Treasury yield fell to 1.72 percent from 1.76 percent late Wednesday, while the 30-year slipped to 2.89 percent from 2.93 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.