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US stocks tread water as Fed minutes loom

US stocks were little changed, staying near their record highs, in quiet afternoon trading yesterday as investors await the minutes from last month’s Federal Reserve meeting for hints on when interest rates will be increased.

Stock market volumes have been subdued in recent sessions ahead of the details of the April 28-29 policy meeting and as the quarterly earnings season draws to a close.

While the central bank is broadly expected to raise rates this year, the timing of the move has kept the market on tenterhooks. The Fed has said it will raise rates only when data suggests that the economy is strengthening.

Growth slowed to a crawl in the first quarter, while recent data has painted a mixed picture. Consumption, business spending and manufacturing data has suggested the economy is struggling, but housing starts were strong.

“The Fed is going to take a more macro view and will raise rates this year. They're going to overlook the little bumps,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

“Markets will react negatively when they do raise rates because they love free money.”

The latest Reuters survey showed most economists were now less sure about when rates would be increased, but the median still suggested a move in the third quarter.

At 1.05pm the Dow Jones industrial average was down 16.75 points, or 0.09 per cent, at 18,295.64, the S&P 500 was down 1.5 points, or 0.07 per cent, at 2,126.33 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 0.07 points, or -0 per cent, at 5,069.96.

The Dow closed at a record high for the second straight day on Tuesday after hitting an all-time intraday high of 18,351.36.

Seven of the 10 major S&P 500 indexes were lower, led by a 0.39 per cent fall in the industrials index.

Southwest Airlines led airline shares lower with a drop of eight per cent to $37.68 after it forecast a decline in passenger unit revenue for the quarter.

Citigroup and JP Morgan both fell 0.6 per cent. They were among four banks fined a total of $6 billion for manipulating currency rates.

Yahoo Inc was up 3.6 per cent at $42.47 after the company said a potential change in tax rules on spinoffs was not specific to its plan to spin off its stake in Alibaba. The stock fell 7.6 per cent on Tuesday.

Lowe's fell 4.2 per cent to $68.85 after reporting lower-than-expected quarterly profit and sales.

Etsy slumped 22.5 per cent to $16.27 after the operator of an online marketplace for handmade goods posted a bigger loss in its first report as a public company.

Pep Boys Manny Moe and Jack rose 14.3 per cent to $10.58 on a report that the auto parts retailer had received takeover approaches.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,489 to 1,462, for a 1.02-to-1 ratio on the upside. On the Nasdaq, 1,424 issues fell and 1,246 advanced for a 1.14-to-1 ratio favouring decliners.

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