Stocks end mixed ahead of Fed meet
NEW YORK » Stocks barely budged yesterday, finishing mixed as interest rate worries and a legal setback for Merck & Co. countered momentum from a possible multibillion-dollar acquisition by ConocoPhillips.
Forecasts for midweek snowstorms in the Northeast catapulted energy prices on anticipation for increased demand, although OPEC said it will keep producing oil at current record levels before considering whether to scale back next year. A barrel of light crude surged $1.91 to settle at $61.30 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The market got an early boost from merger activity, while an upbeat analyst report on Google Inc. paced the tech sector.
There was little economic news to guide the market yesterda, but data on monthly retail sales, price inflation and manufacturing are scheduled for later this week.
Instead, Wall Street awaited the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates today. While the Fed is expected to lift rates by a quarter percentage point to 4.25 percent, traders are hoping for indications the rate hikes will end soon. Recent economic strength has fed worries that the central bank might extend the series of increases.
"People are waiting to see what kind of change in policy language is going to accompany that statement," said Russ Koesterich, senior portfolio manager at Barclays Global Investments. "The question is, if the Fed is approaching (a neutral stance), how will its policy change in 2006?"
Koesterich said he believes the Fed is near the end of its rate tightening, which should help stocks. But if there's "evidence of an increase in core inflation, it's reasonable to assume that the Fed is going to continue hiking rates," he added.
The Dow Jones industrial average lost 10.81, or 0.1 percent, to 10,767.77.
Broader stock indicators gained ground. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.06, or 0.08 percent, to 1,260.43, while the Nasdaq composite index advanced 4.22, or 0.19 percent, to 2,260.95.
Advancing issues led decliners by 17 to 16 on the New York Stock Exchange, where final consolidated volume reached 1.99 billion shares, up from 1.92 billion shares that changed hands Friday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.77, or 0.11 percent, to 689.54.
Bond prices declined, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note climbing to 4.55 percent from 4.53 percent late Friday.
The dollar was mixed against other major currencies in European trading, while gold prices were off recent highs.