Stocks finished largely unchanged in lackluster trading Wednesday as investors largely shrugged off the minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting that showed policymakers wanted further evidence of a sustainable jobs recovery before scaling back its bond purchases.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 8.68 points, to end at 15,291.66, snapping a four-day win streak. American Express and Bank of America led the Dow laggards.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, finished near 14.
Among key S&P sectors, health care finished modestly higher, while financials dragged.
The meeting minutes from the Fed's latest policy meeting showed that even as consensus built within the central bank about the likely need to begin pulling back on economic stimulus measures soon, many policymakers wanted more reassurance the employment recovery was on solid ground before a policy retreat.
"Several members judged that a reduction in asset purchases would likely soon be warranted," the minutes said. But they added that "many members indicated that further improvement in the outlook for the labor market would be required before it would be appropriate to slow the pace of asset purchases."
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to speak shortly after the market close from the National Bureau of Economic Research conference. His topic will be "The First 100 Years: A Century of U.S. Central Banking: Goals, Frameworks, Accountability."
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"There's no reason to think Bernanke is going to be showing his hand right now," said Brian Edmonds, head of interest rates at Cantor Fitzgerald.
In earnings news, Family Dollar soared to top the S&P 500 gainers after the retailer edged past earnings expectations and raised its outlook for the year. Rivals Dollar General and Dollar Tree also rallied.
On the downside, Nabors Industries tumbled to lead the S&P 500 laggards after the oil services provider said its second-quarter profit would fall short of Wall Street estimates, pointing to tougher competition and fewer rentals of its rigs. At least three brokerages slashed their price target on the company.
Analysts expect S&P 500 earnings to grow 2.6 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, while revenue is forecast to increase 1.5 percent from a year ago, according to the latest data from Thomson Reuters.
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Hewlett-Packard rallied after Citigroup upgraded its rating on the tech giant to "buy" from "sell," pointing to increasing benefits from cost savings in the second half of the year, as well as increasing momentum from HP's services segment.
Best Buy declined after Cleveland Research said the consumer electronics chain's domestic comparable store sales appear to be slowing and that fundamentals remain challenging.
Apple edged lower after a federal judge ruled that the iPhone maker conspired to raise the retail prices of e-books, and said a trial for damages will follow.
On the economic front, wholesale inventories declined 0.5 percent in May, falling by the most in over a year and a half, according to the Commerce Department. Economists in a Reuters survey forecast inventories to rise 0.3 percent versus an increase of 0.2 percent in April. However, sales were stronger than expected, rising 1.6 percent.
And weekly mortgage applications dropped last week as the surge in interest rates pushed borrowing costs to their highest level in two years, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
"The housing market's improving, consumer balance sheets are being repaired and corporate balance sheets are strong," noted Goldman. "But there are still negative overhangs—Europe's still not fixed, there's been bad news from China and there are geopolitical risks everywhere. We think while the market's had a nice run, we'll see increased volatility for the rest of the year."
Treasury prices held their losses after the government auctioned $21 billion in 10-year notes at a high yield of 2.670 percent. The bid-to-cover, an indicator of demand, was 2.57, versus the recent average of 2.84.
"My base line is that there is no export growth in China this year, at least until we see a pick from the G-3 economies begin to materialize," said Tim Condon, head of research for Asia with ING Financial Markets.
In Europe, the euro recovered after tumbling to a three-month low against the dollar following Italy's downgrade by credit ratings agency S&P on Tuesday. Italy's government debt is now rated two notches above "junk" status, at BBB.
—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
Coming Up This Week:
THURSDAY: Jobless claims, import & export prices, natural gas inventories, 30-yr bond auction, Treasury budget, Fed balance sheet/money supply, chain store sales, Nokia event
FRIDAY: Producer price index, consumer sentiment; Earnings from JPMorgan, Wells Fargo, Infosys
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