Markets slide as ‘cliff’ talks appear to hit a rough patch

NEW YORK — U.S. stocks fell sharply Wednesday as negotiations in Washington to avoid deep spending cuts and tax increases seemed to hit an especially rocky spot.

President Obama told a news conference that Republicans find it “very hard” to say yes to him, while a spokesman for Republican House Speaker John Boehner called the White House “irrational.”

Retreating from a two-month high, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 98.99 points, or 0.7 percent, to 13,251.97.

The S&P 500 index shed 10.98 points, or 0.8 percent, to 1,435.81.

General Motors Co. jumped 6.6 percent after the automaker said it would buy 200 million shares of its stock from the U.S. Treasury.

The Nasdaq composite index shed 10.17 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,044.36.

New-home startups decline, partly because of superstorm

WASHINGTON — U.S. builders broke ground on fewer homes in November after starting work in October at the fastest pace in four years. Superstorm Sandy likely slowed starts in the Northeast.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders began construction of houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000. That was 3 percent less than October’s annual rate of 888,000, the fastest since July 2008.

Still, the decline follows months of strong gains. Housing starts remain on track for their best year in four years, and the housing market overall appears to be sustaining its recovery.

– From news service reports