Stocks close mostly flat on eve of Fed meeting
NEW YORK » Wall Street battled back from sharp losses yesterday to close mostly flat as investors sought buying opportunities and adjusted their holdings ahead of the Federal Reserve's meeting on interest rates.
Stocks moved lower throu- ghout most of the session on concerns about what central bankers might say about the economy. However, the drop -- the first for the Dow Jones industrials in six sessions -- did make some stock prices look more attractive ahead of the meeting today.
The U.S. Commerce Department yesterday reported who-lesalers' inventories grew at a slower rate in March, failing to meet projections. Meanwhile, the National Association of Realtors lowered its forecast for the housing market this year because of stricter lending standards and subprime woes.
"There's this wait-and-see pullback with regard to what the Fed might do on Wednesday," said Janna Sampson, a portfolio manager for Oakbrook Investments. "Given the run we've had, and a pretty strong start of the year, this might be a case of investors positioning their portfolios a little sooner than usual before the summer doldrums."
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.90, or 0.03 percent, to 13,309.07.
Broader stock indicators were narrowly mixed. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 1.76, or 0.12 percent, at 1,507.72, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 0.80, or 0.03 percent, to 2,571.75.
Fixed-income investors began to place optimistic bets ahead of the Fed meeting, sending bonds higher. The yield of the benchmark 10-year Treasury note fell to 4.63 percent from 4.64 percent late Monday.
Declining issues outpaced advancers by a 3 to 2 basis on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.50 billion shares, up from 1.32 billion shares on Monday.
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 0.97, or 0.12 percent, at 830.90.
Meanwhile, the dollar was mixed against most major currencies, while gold prices were weaker.
Oil prices advanced amid fears of supply disruptions following the bombing of three major oil pipelines by the main militant group in southern Nigeria. A barrel of light, sweet crude rose 79 cents to $62.26 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This pushed major oil companies higher. Exxon Mobil Corp. rose 68 cents to $81.38, a fresh 52-week high of $81.76. Chevron Corp. picked up 47 cents to $80.05, while ConocoPhillips fell 9 cents to $70.25.
In corporate news, Hewlett Packard Co. lifted its second-quarter forecast on strong results in its personal computer and server business. The stock rose $1.21, or 2.8 percent, to $45.01.
Dow Jones & Co. fell 51 ce-nts to $55 after the U.S. Securities and Exchange Comm- ission accused two Hong Kong residents of unlawful trading when they bought $15 million worth of the publisher's stock ahead of an announcement that News Corp. had put in a bid. News Corp. fell 20 cents to $23.65.
Warner Music Group Corp., which owns music labels Atlantic and Elektra, fell 16 cents to $17.14.
The company posted a wider second-quarter loss due to restructuring costs, but surpassed Wall Street's profit projections after excluding items.