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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

Inside the Market

At the open: Markets edge higher amid signs 'fiscal cliff' deal is nearing Add to ...

North American stock markets squeaked out small gains at the open amid promising signs that the U.S. may be backing away from going over the "fiscal cliff" at the start of next year.

In early trading, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 5 points, or 0.04 per cent, at 12,286; the S&P 500 was up 1 point, or 0.1 per cent, at 1,431; and the Dow Jones industrial average was up 11 points, or 0.09 per cent, at 13,247.

The differences over how to head off the automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take hold Jan. 1 appeared to have narrowed significantly Monday night as President Barack Obama reportedly made a counteroffer to Republicans that included a major change in position on tax hikes for the wealthy.

Mr. Obama proposed leaving lower tax rates in place for everyone except those earning $400,000 and above. That's up from the $250,000 threshold the president had previously demanded, although far from Mr. Boehner's demands for $1-million. The White House also lowered the amount of tax revenue it is looking for to $1.2-trillion from $1.4-trillion, reports suggest.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, according to the Wall Street Journal, called it "a step in the right direction," but added that the concessions didn't go far enough.

It was enough progress to spur speculation among traders that an agreement is starting to take shape and many are worried about being caught underweight equities ahead of year-end.

While there is some talk a deal in Washington may come by Thursday, a day before Washington typically breaks for the holidays, that certainly doesn't seem assured. Tennessee Republican Senator Robert Corker Jr. said on CNBC this morning that he believed negotiations would continue into next week.

In economic news this morning, the U.S. Commerce Department said the current account narrowed to $107.5-billion (U.S.) in the third quarter, its lowest level since 2010 in the July through September period, mainly because the value of goods imported into the country fell.

The U.S. National Association of Home Builders will release its housing market index for December at 10 a.m. (ET). Economists are looking for a reading of 47, up from 46 last month, which was the highest reading in 6 1/2 years.

Here's a look at some stocks moving on early news today:

Samsung announced it will withdraw patent lawsuits against Apple in five European Union countries. Shares in Apple are up nearly 1 per cent in early trading.

Boeing Co., Eli Lilly & Co., and Allstate Corp. all announced major share buybacks late Monday. Boeing is down 0.3 per cent; Eli Lilly is up 0.2 per cent; and Allstate is up 0.7 per cent.

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