Stocks gain on hopes for deal to avoid ‘fiscal cliff’

NEW YORK — Stocks gained Wednesday on signs that lawmakers are edging toward a deal that would help the U.S. avoid the “fiscal cliff.” Indexes shrugged off an early loss and rose in afternoon trading.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 106.98 at 12,985.11. It had been down as much as 112 points in early trading. The S&P 500 was up 10.99 at 1,409.93. The Nasdaq rose 23.99 to 2,991.78.

President Barack Obama said he believed both parties can reach a “framework” on a debt-cutting deal before Christmas, while House Speaker John Boehner said he was optimistic that a deal could be reached, according to news outlets.

BP suspended from new U.S. government contracts

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration put a temporary stop to new federal contracts with British oil company BP on Wednesday, citing the company’s “lack of business integrity” and criminal proceedings stemming from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

The action by the Environmental Protection Administration won’t affect current contracts, but prevents BP and its affiliates from new government contracts “until the company can provide sufficient evidence to EPA demonstrating that it meets federal business standards,” the agency said.

BP sought to minimize the effects of the suspension, and said it already is working with the government to resolve the concerns. BP said it has been informed by the EPA that an agreement that would lead to lifting the suspension is already in the works.

Microsoft says Windows 8 system is selling briskly

SAN FRANCISCO — The latest version of Microsoft’s Windows operating system is off to a great start, the company said Wednesday, yet it remains unclear whether the revamped software will win over enough people to revive the slumping personal computer market.

About 40 million licenses to Windows 8 were sold in its first month on the market. Microsoft released the figure in conjunction with its annual shareholder meeting.

A prominent analyst who tracks Microsoft for Nomura Securities lowered his financial forecast for the company because he expects PC sales to continue to falter as more people embrace smartphones and tablet computers.

Indian conglomerate buys 75% of NYC’s Plaza Hotel

NEW YORK — Indian conglomerate Sahara India Pariwar now owns a majority stake in New York’s famed Plaza Hotel, which it bought from Israeli real estate company El Ad US Holding. El Ad CEO Udi Erez said Wednesday that the transaction, valued at $575 million, closed Monday.

The deal, announced in July, gives Sahara India Pariwar a 75 percent interest in the Plaza and adjacent retail space. Kingdom Holding Co., headed by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, retains the remaining stake.

FBI warns of real estate, rental scam in S.C.

COLUMBIA — The Federal Bureau of Investigation is warning homeowners and prospective renters in South Carolina of a new scam.

FBI Special Agent Dave Thomas said potential victims are being contacted by an individual in a foreign country by either email or phone who asks them to send money to an unknown third person in an overseas location.

Thomas said the perpetrators are searching for homes for sale or rent on the internet. They copy pictures and descriptions of the residences, and place them on the marketing site Craigslist,

Thomas warned renters to never wire money to any unknown person. He said to conduct business only with people in person and to view any rental property themselves.

Thomas asked those with complaints about Internet crime to contact the FBI at www.ic3.gov.

Wire reports