Wall Street set to open lower on "fiscal cliff" uncertainty

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By Angela Moon | November 29, 2012 1:35 AM EST

Wall Street was set for a lower open on Wednesday, putting the S&P 500 on course for a third straight day of decline, as investors remained on edge given the lack of details on U.S. budget talks.

The decline came despite encouraging corporate news, including Costco's special dividend and a merger proposal for Knight Capital.

Investors will get readings on new-home sales and the Federal Reserve's Beige Book view of the economy later on Wednesday, but the market is mainly focused on the negotiations about long-term federal budget deficit reduction.

President Barack Obama has invited to the White House chief executives from top corporations, including Goldman Sachs , Deloitte LLP, and Caterpillar Inc , to discuss U.S. fiscal problems.

Obama's meeting with influential leaders from the corporate world is part of his push for Congress to extend tax cuts for middle income Americans, one flashpoint in a standoff with Republicans in Congress over a series of tax hikes and spending cuts, dubbed the "fiscal cliff," that will go into effect next year if lawmakers and the president cannot come up with a deal to stop them.

"These CEOs know that the market will sell off without any resolution, so I think it's encouraging that they are meeting with the president," said Sal Arnuk, co-founder at Themis Trading at Chatham, New Jersey.

One possible result of the deficit reduction talks is a rise in the tax rate on dividends, prompting some firms to issue special dividends or move up plans for dividends.

The latest example is retailer Costco Wholesale Corp , which said it will pay a special $3 billion dividend to investors. The company posted monthly same-store sales that beat forecasts. The stock was up 3.4 percent at $99.74 in premarket trade.

U.S. stocks slid on Tuesday after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid expressed disappointment that there has been "little progress" in dealing with the fiscal cliff.

S&P 500 futures were down 7 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 39 points and Nasdaq 100 futures were down 8.75 points.

Knight Capital Group Inc shares jumped nearly 20 percent to $3.52 in premarket trade on news that Getco LLC has sent a proposal for a merger between Getco and Knight Capital at a price of $3.50 per share, according to a regulatory filing.

Deep divisions at the Federal Reserve were on display on Tuesday, just two weeks before the U.S. central bank's next policy-setting meeting, with one top Fed official pushing for more easing, and another advocating limits. The Fed will release its Beige Book summary of regional economic conditions at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT).

New home sales data is due at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a reading of 390,000 for October versus the previous reading of 389,000.

Microsoft Corp has sold 40 million Windows 8 licenses in the month since the launch, according to one of the new co-heads of the Windows unit, setting a faster pace than Windows 7 three years ago.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc forecast quarterly and full year earnings well above analysts' expectations, helped by an expanded lineup of single-serve coffee makers and drinks, sending its shares up 22 percent in after-hours trade.

Nokia said on Wednesday that an arbitrator has ruled in its favor in a patent dispute with BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion over use of Nokia's patents related to wireless local access network technology.

(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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