Jan. 3 - Summary of business headlines: Google comes out unscathed after anti-competition probe but angers State Department with planned North Korea trip; Stocks recede despite encouraging numbers on retail, jobs, and auto sales. Conway G. Gittens reports.
Wall Street just could not muscle up enough energy to carry on the big rally spark by the fiscal cliff deal the day before... leaving stocks to drift lower into the close. Topping the headlines: Google barely gets a slap on the wrist after a long-running probe by the Federal Trade Commission. The anti-competitive watchdog says it found little truth in allegations Google was favoring its products and hurting rivals through its dominant search engine. The search giant, however, has agreed to tweak some of its practices. But Google is in hot water with the State Department. Google's executive Chairman Eric Schmidt is heading to North Korea, along with former diplomat Bill Richardson, according to sources familiar with the matter. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says the two are free to go but....... SOUNDBITE: STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN VICTORIA NULAND (ENGLISH) SAYING: "They are not carrying any messages from us. Frankly, we don't think the timing of this is particularly helpful, but they are private citizens, and they are making their own decisions." No word on what Schmidt will meet or do on the trip. Google won't confirm any details. Investors received more snapshots on how the economy ended 2012. Auto sales rose swiftly last year in the biggest annual gain since 2007. Sales at stores opened more than a year topped forecasts for December and were better than a year ago, but gains were not broad based. And there's more good news - private employers added 215,000 jobs, defying expectations of a pre-fiscal cliff slowdown. The Federal Reserve is reluctant to go beyond its near $3 trillion buying spree. That's the takeaway from minutes from the Fed's December meeting, which suggests policymakers may be concerned about the impact the Fed's buying strategy will have on the markets. Finally, action in Europe was mixed with stocks up in the U.K., but down in Germany and France.