* Trading volatile on steep moves in large-cap stocks
* Travelers' gain leads Dow higher, Apple's drop hits Nasdaq
* Freeport to buy Plains, McMoRan Exploration for $9 bln
* Citigroup to cut 11,000 jobs, take $1 billion charge
* Dow up 0.9 pct, S&P up 0.4 pct, Nasdaq off 0.5 pct
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) - U.S stocks mostly rose on
Wednesday, boosted by a rally in bank shares, though a steep
drop in Apple limited the advance and kept the Nasdaq in
Trading was volatile, with the S&P 500 dropping into
negative territory at one point and the Nasdaq falling more than
1 percent before rebounding. The Dow, which doesn't contain
Apple Inc as a component, climbed 1 percent by midday.
Apple, the largest U.S. company by market capitalization and
a big weight in both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, fell 4.7
percent to $548.88. Apple is down more than 22 percent from an
all-time high reached in late September.
The S&P 500 reversed course after briefly falling below the
1,400 level, seen as a key support point over the past two
"There's still psychological interest in buying the market,"
said John Brady, managing director at R.J. O'Brien & Associates
in Chicago. At the 1,400 level, "we find again 'dip buyers'
there. They strongly believe a deal (on the fiscal cliff) is
going to get done."
For several weeks, investors have reacted quickly to whiffs
of sentiment from Washington in headlines about negotiations
between the White House and congressional leaders over a deal on
how to avoid the "fiscal cliff" - a series of mandatory spending
cuts and tax increases effective in early January that could
push the U.S. economy into recession next year.
President Barack Obama told the Business Roundtable, a group
of chief executives, on Wednesday that a fiscal cliff deal was
possible "in about a week" if Republicans acknowledged the need
to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 115.44
points, or 0.89 percent, at 13,067.22. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index was up 5.71 points, or 0.41 percent, at 1,412.76.
But the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 13.75 points, or
0.46 percent, at 2,982.94.
Apple's slide weighed heavily on the Nasdaq. Market
participants cited a host of reasons for the drop in the iPad
maker's stock, including a consultant's report about the company
losing share in the tablet market and reports that margin
requirements had been raised by at least one clearing firm.
Apple has "to hit another home run to get $700 again," said
Brian Battle, director of trading at Performance Trust Capital
Partners in Chicago. "They need another new product that hits it
out of the park. Without that, they could get a gradual
grind-down in confidence ... this is not going to be a
On the upside, The Travelers Cos Inc rose 5.1
percent to $74.111 and ranked as the Dow's top gainer after the
property and casualty insurance company said its preliminary
estimate of net losses from Superstorm Sandy was about $650
million after tax.
Banks were also strong, with the S&P financial sector index
climbing 1.5 percent. The rally was led by a 7.3 percent
climb in Citigroup to $36.79 after the company said it
would cut 4 percent of its workforce in a cost-cutting move. The
KBW Bank Index rose 2 percent.
Bank of America shares shot up 6.1 percent to
$10.51, just a touch off a new 52-week high at $10.52.
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc fell 15.2 percent
to $32.47 as the S&P 500's biggest percentage decliner. The
company said it was acquiring Plains Exploration & Production Co
and McMoRan Exploration Co in two separate deals
for $9 billion in cash and stock in a major expansion into
McMoRan Exploration soared 83.6 percent to $15.53 and Plains
Exploration & Production surged 24.4 percent to $44.83.
Economic data from payrolls processor ADP showed U.S.
private-sector hiring took a hit in November due to the impact
of Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged consumers and businesses in
the Northeastern United States, but the huge services sector
kept expanding albeit at a modest pace, according to the
Institute for Supply Management.