NEW YORK-- The Dow Jones industrial average crept slightly lower Wednesday as Europe edged closer to a recession that would hurt corporate profits in the U.S. The first earnings reports from American companies didn't add much encouragement.

Germany reported that its economy, the largest in Europe, shrank slightly at the end of last year. And the European Union revised its figures for economic growth in the third quarter to 0.1 percent, its slowest pace in more than two years.

The United States depends on Europe to buy about 20 percent of its exports, and concerns about Europe have led analysts to lower their profit estimates for U.S. companies.

--The Dow dropped 13.02 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 12,449.45.

--The S&P 500 rose 0.4 to 1,292.48.

--The Nasdaq index rose 8.26, or 0.3 percent, to 2,710.76.

Fed: Economy gathered strength at end of 2011

WASHINGTON --The final weeks of 2011 were among the economy's strongest as Americans shopped and traveled more, ending the year with a shot of optimism for 2012.

That's the bright picture the Federal Reserve sketched in a survey released Wednesday. It said all but one of its 12 banking districts experienced some growth from late November through the end of the year.

Some sectors of the economy, notably housing, remain weak, the Fed said. But consumers spent more freely, factories made more goods, Americans stepped up travel and the auto industry enjoyed its best stretch of the year.

Raymond James agrees to buy Morgan Keegan

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Bank owner Regions Financial said Wednesday it has agreed to sell Morgan Keegan financial advisory unit to Raymond James Financial for $930 million.

Morgan Keegan, a leading underwriters of municipal bonds, will pay Regions a $250 million dividend, resulting in total proceeds to Regions of $1.18 billion. The deal is expected to close by March 31.

Locally, Morgan Keegan has one office in downtown Charleston, and Raymond James has four locations.

Lennar seeing stability for new-home business

MIAMI -- Lennar, the nation's third-largest home builder, said the housing market is starting to stabilize because of low home prices and low interest rates, making it more appealing to consumers to buy.

The company said Wednesday that its fiscal fourth-quarter revenue rose as it delivered more homes, but its profit dropped 5 percent to $30.3 million for the period ended Nov. 30.

Revenue climbed 11 percent to $952.7 million from $860.1 million, well above Wall Street's estimate of $874.6 million.

Lennar, which has operations in the Charleston area, sells homes around the country for entry-level and move-up buyers as well as retirees. It said home deliveries rose 9 percent.