Stocks were mixed Tuesday as investors digested news that the Federal Reserve would be willing to provide "additional accommodation" to the U.S. economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was about 20 points higher, after rising more than 60 points after the Federal Reserve released its policy statement.
Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard gained, while Alcoa and JP Morgan fell.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq fell. The CBOE Volatility Index, widely regarded as the best gauge of fear in the market, rose rose more than 4 percent, above 22.
Materials, financials and consumer discretionary sectors slipped, while telecom and industrialsectors gained.
The Federal Reserve said they would leave short-term rates unchanged, as expected. The Fed also has no immediate plans to begin quantitative easing. But Fed members indicated they are concerned about the economy's sluggish growth and low inflation, and are ready to provide supportto the U.S. economy.
"The committee will continue to monitor the economic outlook and financial developments and is prepared to provide additional accommodation if needed to support the economic recovery and to return inflation, over time, to levels consistent with its mandate," the Fed said in a statement.
The initial boost in stock prices was somewhat surprising, said Lawrence Creatura, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors, since the things the Fed discussed were on investors' radar screens already.
"The fact these options are recognized by them as being on the table to ensure price stability is significant in the sense that it indicates they are willing to use those tools from their arsenal to get the job done," Creatura said. "To have it explicitly stated perhaps is news to some."
Creatura noted, however, that while technical improvement in the markets has been good, it's taken place on very little volume.
"Whether these are real moves, or whether these moves have enough mass to be sustainable is still open to question," Creatura said. "It’s a comedy: investors. they just checked out during the summertime and have not returned."
That may be good news for portfolio managers, however. "There is an absence of liquidity that indicates that it may be some time to spot some mispricings in the market," he said.
September has been a banner month for stocks so far, as the major indexes rallied, breaking through trading ranges that had restrained gains throughout the summer, although the rally seemed to take a breather Tuesday.
Materials continued to lag the broader market with most steel stocks, including Alcoa, in the red.
U.S. Steel and Nucor slipped after brokerage Longbow cut its ratings on the steel giants to "neutral" from "buy" and "sell" from "neutral," respectively.
BHP Billiton has extended the deadlinefor its Potash takeover bid until November 18, after a Canadian regulator asked for more information. Analysts now speculate the takeover battle will drag on into 2011.
Most gold miners were lower including Kinross Gold and Barrick Gold . Gold prices eased below $1,273 an ounce.
On the tech front, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle settled a legal dispute over Oracle's hiring of ex-HP CEO Mark Hurd.
Sandisk sank after it was downgraded by Sterne Agee to "neutral" from "buy,"and Morgan Stanley cut its estimates as well, citing slow retail demand. Micron Technology also fell after Sterne Agee similarly downgraded the chip maker to "neutral."
Meanwhile, shares of rival Nvidia jumped after Pacific Crest said demand for graphics processors is stabilizing, and channel inventory has declined to three to four weeks from 10 to 12 weeks last quarter, in a note to clients.
Nokia tumbled after the Finnish handset maker said it would delay its flagship smartphone N8 model again. Meanwhile, rivals Apple and Research In Motion rose.
Google shares advanced after the search-engine giant said it is introducing additional security measures to its email accounts and other password-protected services. Other Internet firms including Baidu and Yahoo were trading higher.
Several financials were upgraded or downgraded from Evercore Partners, which started to cover the sector with a "positive view," although the sector remained lower.
The brokerage rated Bank of America , Comerica , Wells Fargoand Zions "overweight," while it rated First Financial and Huntington "underweight."
In earnings news, AutoZone shares fell despite reporting a boost of 6.7 percent in same-store sales and an unexpectedly strong 14 percent increase in profits.
ConAgra slipped after the maker of Healthy Choice frozen dinners and Hunt's tomato products, reported lower-than-expected quarterly earnings and cut its earnings growth forecast for the full year.
And a boost in sales allowed Carnival to report better-than-expected results, although the cruise company was cautious about the current quarter.
Adobe Systems is scheduled to report earnings after the bell.