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Stocks end modestly lower as Fed pulls plug on QE

U.S. stocks fell on Wednesday, a day after the S&P 500 rose to within 2 percent of its record, as Wall Street mulled the ramifications of the widely telegraphed ahead monetary-policy decision from the Federal Reserve.

As expected, the central bank announced an end to monthly bond purchases, known as quantitative easing, that helped fuel stock gains and increased the Fed's balance sheet to a record. The central bank kept its language on keeping interest rates low for a "considerable time" as it ended its two-day meeting, but dropped its "significant" wording in regards to slack in the U.S. labor market.

Read MoreFed completes the taper

"I don't think it would be any surprise that they are ending QE; anybody who thinks that wasn't paying attention. The only real change is what they said about unemployment, and we get that news next week," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade, referring to the October jobs report scheduled for release next Friday.

"The fact remains even though the headline reads the Fed ends QE, they haven't diminished the size of their balance sheet, that money is going to be rolled over," Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners.

"It was a knee-jerk reaction to what has been known for many months," Pavlik added of stocks falling to session lows in the immediate aftermath of the decision, with the Dow sliding more than 100 points.

"The 'oh my God we're on our own-type fear took hold there for a second," said Kinahan at TD Ameritrade.

Facebook shares slid as the social network projected slower revenue growth this quarter and said spending would increase in 2015; Orbital Sciences dropped, a day after its unmanned rocket exploded just after taking off for the International Space Station; Hershey declined after the chocolate maker posted third-quarter earnings below estimates and cut its guidance for the year, and U.S. Steel surged after posting better-than-estimated quarterly results.

"Generally this is why the markets have come back firmly is because earnings season has gone quite well. The fear was with Europe, China and Latin America slowing down that we'd see a lot of downward revisions. We saw some, but in general did not happen," said Paul Karos, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds.

Of the 287 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported third-quarter earnings, 75.3 percent have beaten estimates, better than the 63 percent of companies that beat in a typical quarter, going back to 1994, according to Thomson Reuters.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Oct. 15, 2014.
Getty Images
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Oct. 15, 2014.
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After a 59-point gain the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell as much as 110 points, and ended at 16,974.31, down 31.44 points, or 0.2 percent, with DuPont leading blue-chip declines after saying there were "competitive" reasons to keep its businesses together.

The S&P 500 dropped 2.75 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,982.30, with materials leading losses and financials faring best of the index's 10 major sectors.

The CBOE Volatility Index, a measure of investor uncertainty, climbed 5.3 percent to 15.15.

The Nasdaq declined 15.07 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,549.23.

Decliners outran advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where nearly 823 million shares traded. Composite volume cleared 3.7 billion.

The U.S. dollar turned higher against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners; the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note used to figure mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 2 basis points to 2.318 percent.

Crude-oil futures for December delivery rose 78 cents, or 1 percent, to $82.20 a barrel; gold futures for December fell $4.50 to $1,225.90 an ounce.

On Tuesday, U.S. stocks rose, with the Dow industrials extending gains into a fourth day and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite higher on the month, as investors embraced corporate earnings, a rise in consumer sentiment and anticipated the end of the Federal Reserve's bond buys.

Read MoreU.S. stocks rally on earnings; Dow tops 17,000

Coming Up This Week:

Thursday

Earnings: Royal Dutch Shell, Samsung Electronics, ConocoPhillips,Kellogg, Mosaic, Microchip Tech, Expedia, Crown Castle, Eastman Chemical, Boston Beer, Newmont Mining, Mohawk, Tesoro, Groupon,LinkedIn, Teva, Altria, Starbucks, Johnson Controls, New York Times, Eni, Fortress Investments, Starz, GNC Holdings, LPL Financial, Old Dominion Freight Line, CME Group, Public Storage, Time Warner Cable

8:30 a.m.: Weekly jobless claims

830 a.m.: Q3 real GDP

9:00 a.m.: Fed Chair Janet Yellen makes welcoming remarkets at Fed conference in Washington, No Q&A

1:00 p.m.: $29 billion 7-year note auction

Friday

Earnings: Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Sony, A-B InBev, AbbVie, Clorox, BNP Paribas, Madison Square Garden, Pinnacle West, Newell Rubbermaid, Rockwell Collins, NextEra Energy, Charter Communications, Legg Mason, CBOE Holdings, Weyerhaeuser, Teco Energy, Dominion

8:30 a.m.: Personal income and spending

8:30 a.m.: Employment cost index

9:45 a.m.: Chicago PMI

9:55 a.m.: Consumer sentiment

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