US stocks drift lower ahead of Fed minutes

SHARE US stocks drift lower ahead of Fed minutes

U.S. stock indexes inched lower in afternoon trading Wednesday, ahead of the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s most recent policy meeting. Investors hoped to glean insights on when the central bank will begin to raise a key interest rate.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor’s 500 index slid four points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,047 as of 1:13 p.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 16 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,670. The Nasdaq composite shed 17 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,684. The S&P 500 and Dow are coming off record highs.

THE QUOTE: “What we have are worries that the Fed minutes might show a more hawkish Fed than was expressed in their statement,” said David Kelly, Chief Global Strategist for J.P. Morgan Funds. “I don’t get a sense that there’s a lot of momentum in the market one way or the other here.”

FED WATCH: The Fed is due to publish minutes from its October policy meeting at 2 p.m. Eastern. Investors will look for clues on when the central bank might start to hike its benchmark short-term interest rate, which affects many consumer and business loans. Most economists predict the Fed won’t raise that rate before June.

SECTOR WATCH: Seven of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 declined, and telecommunications stocks fell the most. Consumer staples managed the biggest gain. Avon led the index’s decliners, sliding 51 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $9.40.

NOT DIGGIN’ IT: Shares in Cliffs Natural Resources sank 15.1 percent on news that the mining company is pursuing exit options for its Eastern Canadian iron ore operations, including its Bloom Lake mine. The stock fell $1.55 to $8.66.

SOLD TO KOCH: Oplink Communications jumped 13.7 percent after the optical networking equipment company said it will be acquired by Koch Industries in an all-cash deal worth $445 million. Oplink shares rose $2.92 to $24.17.

REBOUND QUARTER: Lowe’s reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings, helped by a nascent recovery in the housing market. The home improvement retailer also raised its full-year forecast. The stock rose $3.69, or 6.3 percent, to $62.22.

ON TARGET AGAIN: Target reported a 3.1 percent increase in third-quarter profit as the retailer rebounded from a massive data breach just before Christmas last year. The latest results exceeded forecasts by financial analysts and provided some encouragement as Target gears up for the holiday shopping season. The stock gained $4.54, or 6.7 percent, to $72.05.

OFFICE PARTY: Staples surged 9.3 percent, a day after the office supply chain reported higher fiscal third-quarter earnings. The stock rose $1.19 to $13.95.

HOME CONSTRUCTION EBBS: The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that construction of U.S. homes fell 2.8 percent in October after surging 7.8 percent the previous month. The weakness was largely due to the volatile apartment sector. Construction of single-family homes, however, rose 4.2 percent, the third gain in the past four months.

OVERSEAS MARKETS: Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 percent, while France’s CAC 40 rose 0.1 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.7 percent, while China’s Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.2 percent.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 40 cents to $75.04 a barrel in New York.

BONDS: U.S. government bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.35 percent from 2.33 percent late Tuesday.

BY ALEX VEIGA, AP Business Writer

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