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Markets in holding pattern ahead of Fed meeting


U.S. stocks come off a day of little change ahead of a two-day meeting of Federal Reserve policymakers that gets underway today. Little change in policy is expected this time around, with the latest statement set for tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. ET.


As Wall Street waits for the Fed, it will have plenty of economic data to consider, thanks in part to a number of reports that had been delayed by the government shutdown. At 8:30 a.m. ET, the government's September retail sales report is expected to show a rise of 0.1 percent for the month following a 0.2 percent increase in August, while the September Producer Price Index is seen rising 0.2 percent after August's 0.3 percent advance.


At 9 a.m. ET, the August Case-Shiller Home Price Index is out, with economists predicting a 12.5 percent year-over-year increase in prices for the nation's largest cities.


At 10 a.m. ET, August business inventories are expected to register an increase of 0.3 percent after rising 0.4 percent in July. At the same time, the Conference Board is out with its October Consumer Confidence Index, with consensus forecasts calling for a reading of 74.5 following last month's 79.7.


Dow component Pfizer (PFE) leads this morning's list of corporate earnings, with Aetna (AET), Allergan (AGN), Cummins (CMI), Goodyear (GT), Johnson Controls (JCI), Pitney Bowes (PBI), and Waste Management also among those scheduled to report. Electronic Arts (EA) releases quarterly earnings after the bell, along with Gilead Sciences (GILD), Genworth Financial (GNW), Aflac (AFL), Shutterfly (SFLY) and Take-Two Interactive (TTWO), among others.


Apple leads our list of stocks to watch, as it reports fourth quarter profit of $8.26 per share, beating estimates of $7.96. Revenue was also above consensus, but projected gross margins for the current quarter are below Street expectations.


Seagate Technology (STX) reported first quarter profit of $1.29 per share, excluding certain items, missing estimates by a penny. Revenue also fell short, although the hard disk drive maker did deliver some positive news with a quarterly dividend hike to 43 cents per share from 38 cents. Its quarterly results were impacted by the ongoing drop in personal computer sales.


Herbalife (HLF) earned $1.41 per share for the third quarter, excluding certain items, beating estimates of $1.14. Revenue was slightly above estimates, but its current quarter projection is largely short of consensus. The maker of nutritional supplements did raise its full year guidance, as worldwide sales increase.


General Growth Properties (GGP) reported third quarter funds from operations of 29 cents per share, two cents above estimates. The mall operator's revenue was short of estimates, but General Growth also raised its full year projection for funds from operations, the key measure of profitability for REITs.


Riverbed Technology (RVBD) beat estimates by three cents with third quarter profit of 26 cents per share, excluding certain items, though revenue fell short of consensus. The maker of networking equipment points to a mixed economic environment, particularly where government sales were concerned, but nonetheless terms the quarter a "solid" one.


Hartford Financial (HIG) reported third quarter profit of $1.03 per share, excluding certain items, 20 cents above estimates, with revenue also scoring a solid beat. The insurer saw a drop in property/casualty profits, but its payout ratio for claims and expenses improved from a year earlier.


Masco (MAS) earned 27 cents per share, excluding certain items, for the third quarter, beat estimates by two cents. The building products maker also saw revenue beat consensus, thanks to increased renovation activity among homeowners as well as more new home construction.


Michael Kors (KORS) will be added to the S&P 500 index after the close of trading this Friday. It will replace NYSE Euronext (NYX), which is being acquired by IntercontinentalExchange (ICE).


U.S. Steel (X) lost 14 cents per share for the third quarter, a smaller loss than the 43 cents analysts had been predicting. Revenue, however, was below forecasts, as the company deals with weaker prices and a drop in demand.