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US STOCKS-Wall Street ticks up, Fed decision awaited

Rodrigo Campos
Wednesday, 18 Dec 2013 | 10:26 AM ET

* FedEx results miss Wall Street estimates, shares dip

* Lennar shares up after results; Jabil slides on outlook

* Ford tumbles, sees lower North American pre-tax profit

* Nov housing starts at highest in nearly six years

* Indexes: Dow up 0.39 pct, S&P up 0.19 pct, Nasdaq off 0.08 pct

NEW YORK, Dec 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged up on Wednesday, with markets on tenterhooks ahead of the Federal Reserve's last policy announcement of the year, which might determine the immediate future of its 15-month long program to stimulate the economy.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will follow the 2:00 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) announcement with his final press conference at the helm of the U.S. central bank at 2:30 p.m.

Many expect the Fed to continue its quantitative easing program at the current pace of $85 billion monthly asset purchases into next year. Still, sturdier recent economic data led some to believe it is time to take the training wheels off the world's largest economy and to allow it to progress on its own.

Data on Wednesday showed U.S. housing starts surged to their highest in nearly six years in November, a sign of strength in the housing market that could support a Fed decision to soon start cutting back its bond purchases.

"I don't think the market should ignore these numbers as an indication the consumer is in decent shape," said Paul Zemsky, head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management in New York.

"The reaction from the market is not too strong before the Fed, as nobody wants to take on a big position in the morning."

The stimulus has kept a lid on borrowing costs and flooded markets with liquidity, boosting an equities rally. The S&P 500 closed at a record high on Dec. 9.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.62 points or 0.39 percent, to 15,936.88, the S&P 500 gained 3.38 points or 0.19 percent, to 1,784.38 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 3.018 points or 0.08 percent, to 4,020.662.

Apple and Micron weighed on the Nasdaq, with the iPhone maker down 1.5 percent at $546.73 and Micron off 7.5 percent at $21.20.

Ford shares fell 5.4 percent to $15.80 after the carmaker said it expects North American pre-tax profit to be lower in 2014 than in 2013.

FedEx Corp's quarterly results missed Wall Street estimates as revenue declined at its biggest unit. Its shares edged down 0.4 percent to $138.50.

CVS Caremark said it expects sales and earnings to rise in 2014 even though it anticipated only a "modest" benefit next year from the launch of the U.S. Affordable Care Act. Its shares jumped 3 percent to $68.82.

Jabil Circuit shares tumbled 21.6 percent to $15.47 a day after the contract electronics maker said it would sell its warranty repair business and forecast current-quarter results way below Wall Street estimates.

Shares of Lennar Corp rose 3.3 percent to $36.35 the No. 3 U.S. homebuilder reported a 32 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit.

General Mills fell 2.2 percent to $48.47 after it reported lower-than-expected quarterly results and said full-year profit could come in at the lower end of its forecast.

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FDX
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LEN
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