For the stock market, this week hasn't been the most wonderful time of the year.

U.S. stocks fell Wednesday for the third trading day in a row. Disappointing holiday sales weighed heavy on retail companies, and the "fiscal cliff" deadline loomed nearer.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 24.49 points to 13,114.59. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.48 percent to 1,419.83 and the Nasdaq composite index fell 0.74 percent to 2,990.16.

The MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse report found that sales of electronics, clothing, jewelry and home goods increased just 0.7 percent in the two months before Christmas compared with the same period last year.

That was the worst performance since 2008, when spending shrank during the depths of the Great Recession.

Major U.S. retailers including Abercrombie & Fitch, Sears Holdings, Urban Outfitters, Limited Brands, Nike and Gap were all down.

The retail numbers are also a sign that despite scattered hints of an improving economy, many consumers remain uneasy about their prospects.

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It was the first trading day after the Christmas holiday. Trading volume was low, and European markets were still closed.