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US stocks end near unchanged a day after record-setting rally

U.S. stocks were little moved on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 ending a fraction below its record close, as investors tracked developments in Ukraine and disregarded U.S. economic reports as impacted by the weather.

The Federal Reserve's Beige Book offered confirmation that the harsh winter impacted the economy.

"Simply put, the Fed's Beige Book indicates that weather affected nearly the entire economy across the country this winter," offered Dan Greenhaus, chief strategist at BTIG.

Ahead of the Fed release, a measure of the service sector declined and another report had the private sector adding fewer-than-projected jobs in February, with both seen as being impacted by the weather.

"My take is that investors have been willing to excuse the economic data that we've had cloaked under snowmageddon. It's really difficult to be precise on how much the weather has influenced the data," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

Also, it "stands to reason after a particularly strong day yesterday that we would cool off a little bit, plus the heightened tensions over the Ukraine have dissipated. But that's not over, so there has to be some handicapping," added Luschini, referring to Wall Street's rally on Tuesday as fears lessened that Russia's move into Crimea could escalate into a bigger conflict in Ukraine.

Smith & Wesson Holding rallied after the gun manufacturer hiked its profit outlook. Shares of Target edged lower after the discount retailer's chief information officer resigned in the wake of the huge pre-holiday data breach.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average shed 35.70 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,360.18, with Exxon Mobil leading declines that included 18 of its 30 components.

The S&P 500 shed a fraction to 1,873.81, with energy hardest hit and financials faring best among its 10 major sectors. The index earlier rose 2.67 points to hit an intraday record 1,876.53.

The Nasdaq added 6 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,357.97.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), a measure of investor uncertainty, fell 1.1 percent to 13.94.

For every seven stocks gaining, roughly eight fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where 666 million shares traded. Composite volume neared 3.4 billion.

Oil futures for April delivery declined $1.88, or 1.8 percent, to $101.45 a barrel. Gold for February delivery added $2.40, or 0.2 percent, to settle at $1,340.30 an ounce.

The dollar held steady against other global currencies and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell 1 basis point to 2.692 percent.

ADP Research Institute reported the private sector added 139,000 jobs in February, less than the 160,000 estimated.

The report confirms "a tepid labor market. However, investors are likely to grit their teeth and cling to the weather-driven story," noted Andrew Wilkinson, chief market analyst at Interactive Brokers.

"And besides, the latest data fails to really show signs of slowdown while shoring up optimism that the payback resulting from the cold winter will produce a positive hiring rebound come the spring," he added.

(Read: Employment numbers, will they matter?)

Another report on Wednesday had the Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index for February due coming in at 51.6 in February versus a 54 reading in January.

On Tuesday, both the Dow and the S&P had their best session of the year as worries over the crisis in Ukraine eased.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson

Coming Up This Week:

Thursday

Earnings: Costco, Joy Global, Kroger, Staples, Cooper Cos, Fresh Market, H&R Block, Finisar, Ciena

Bank of England rates meeting

European Central Bank rate meeting

Monthly chain store sales

8:30 a.m.: Initial claims

8:30 a.m.: Productivity and costs

10:00 a.m.: Factory orders

Friday

Earnings: Foot Locker

8:30 a.m.: Employment report

8:30 a.m.: International trade

3:00 p.m.: Consumer credit

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