Stocks eased off their session lows to close mixed Wednesday after the Federal Reserve left the door open for another round of monetary stimulus "fairly soon."
The latest minutes from the FOMC minutes showed "many" members said additional accommodation is likely warranted unless the economy improves substantially.
"They used the word 'many'—it sounds like they're very close to doing QE3,” said Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at the Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi. “I think it’s being driven by the Chairman. The unemployment rate at 8.3 percent is upsetting to them."
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell for a third-consecutive session, sliding 30.82 points, or 0.23 percent, to end at 13,172.76. Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar led the laggards.
The S&P 500 eked out a gain of 0.32 points, or 0.02 percent, to finish at 1,413.49. The Nasdaq gained 6.41 points, or 0.21 percent, to close at 3,073.67.
The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, closed above 15.
Among the key S&P sectors, industrials lagged, while materials ended higher.
The euro surged to its best level since early July against the dollar, jumping above $1.25,following the Fed announcement.
Investors will be looking ahead to the Fed's annual meeting in Jackson Hole at the end of next week, for hints on further easing measures.
“I don’t think Bernanke’s going to announce a plan, but will leave the door open,” said Kenny Polcari, managing director at ICAP Equities. “We might see a pullback as a result, but I don’t think we’re going to get a panic selloff—in fact, it’s a better sign for the economy if he doesn’t do anything.”
Apple logged a new all-time closing high of $668.65 after Needham boosted its price target on the iPhone maker to $750 from $620.
Among earnings, Dell tumbled after the tech giant warned of a difficult second half and cut its full-year earnings guidanceas customers cut back on computer purchases ahead of the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8 software. At least eight brokerages lowered their price targets on the firm.
Toll Brothers jumped after the luxury homebuilder reported a higher quarterly profit and a sharp gain in new orders. Other homebuilders also climbed, including Pulte and DRHorton .
Chico's rallied after the women's apparel retailer posted quarterly results that topped expectations and raised the low end of its full-year revenue outlook.
Hewlett-Packard and Kayak are scheduled to post earnings after the closing bell.
EBay and Discover Financial Services climbed after the two companies agreed to provide access to online-payments provider Paypal to nearly 7 million physical stores in the U.S.
European shares finished lower amid fresh worries ahead of talks between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and euro zone leaders later this week. Samaras is expected to request a two-year extension to the country’s bailout terms, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel is reported to be reluctant to concede more time for the struggling country. (Read More: The Ultimate Risk of Giving Greece More Time)
Adding to woes, Japan's exports fell last monthas shipments to Europe and China declined, fueling worries over global demand after a string of weak trade figures from Asia's major exporting countries.
On the economic front, existing home sales climbed in July and the median sales price was higher than a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Weekly mortgage applications slumped last week, with refinancing demand falling as mortgage rates jumped to their highest level since late June, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
—By CNBC’s JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)
What's Happening This Week:
THURSDAY: Jobless claims, PMI manufacturing index flash, new home sales, FHFA home price index; Earnings from Gold Fields, Hormel Foods, Big Lots, Salesforce.com
FRIDAY: Durable goods orders, USDA food prices outlook
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