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U.S. stocks closed lower on Wednesday as investors remained on edge amid earnings as the Federal Reserve reaffirmed its data-dependent stance following a weak first-quarter GDP report. (Tweet This)
"The investor takeaway is the Fed is very much sensitive to what is happening in the economy," said Alan Rechtschaffen, financial advisor and senior vice president at UBS Wealth Management Americas.
"I think it is very very difficult to hike when the Fed is speaking the way it has now," he said, noting that everything in the new Fed statement was "more negative" than that of the last meeting.
Equities are lower in "a partial acknowledgement that it's still temporary factors," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth. "The Fed is not taken out of the picture. Overall (the statement) was right in line."
The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee released its meeting statement on Wednesday afternoon that removed all calendar references and showed no new guidance on the timing of the rate hike.
"Bottom line, the statement was a non-event outside of some modest changes," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, said in a note. "They did the right thing in that there was no point in leaning in one direction with so much more data to see ahead of the June meeting. We have 2 more labor market figures to see and some more inflation reads too."
Analysts had not expected a change to policy from this Fed meeting.
"I don't think anything has changed," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. "There's a clear indication the economy has slowed. The Fed is probably not going to hike rates until September. ... The odds are increasing now for December."
Earlier in the afternoon, the Dow Jones industrial average briefly fell more than 150 points as all the major indices declined on the morning's weak GDP report.
"The market reacted somewhat negatively," said Stephen Freedman, CIO head of U.S. thematic and sustainable investing strategy at UBS Wealth Management Americas. "You need to see second quarter indicators improve. It's "not so much 'the bad news is good news.' After focus on the Fed, the focus is on the growth picture."
The Dow Transports fell more than 1 percent to below its 200-day moving average as oil rallied to four-month highs and pressured airlines.
"The net-net of the day for transports is the Fed views the data in the first quarter as transitory," said John Canally, investment strategist and economist at LPL Financial.
"The Fed turns the market's attention to the data," he said, noting a lack of upcoming Fed speakers. "It's really going to keep to that tug of war between the Fed and data."
Read More Dollar trounced on GDP, view of easy Fed
The dollar fell more than 1 percent against major currencies. The euro continued to strengthen, climbing above $1.11 for the first time since March 5.
The common currency's rise came with a more than 3 percent decline in the German DAX that "started with spike in European interest rates with bond sell off after M3 money supply growth was more than expected, lending growth rose for the first time in years and German CPI rose one-tenth more than expected," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, said in a note.
European equities extended losses as investors reacted to the sharp gains in the euro against the dollar ahead of the Fed statement.
With dollar weakness, the U.S. 10-year Treasury yield gained to as high as 2.07 percent. Earlier, the yield dipped below 2 percent following the GDP report.
The advance estimate of first quarter GDP showed an increase of 0.2 percent, a sharp slowdown from the fourth quarter's 2.2 percent pace and below expectations of 1 percent growth. The government cited the strong dollar and the West Coast port strikes as negative factors.
"Overall I think this report is disappointing. I don't think it's conclusive partly because it will be revised," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones. "Everyone knew it would be weak. ... It doesn't change the direction of the Fed rate hike."
"I don't think this raises concerns about the strength of the U.S. economy," said Gus Faucher, senior macroeconomist at PNC Financial Services. He noted that consumer spending is still up 1.9 percent over the same period last year, and posted a less-than-expected decline in the first quarter report. With expectations of job growth, he said "the conditions are ... for solid growth in consumer spending in 2015."
Boston Wealth's Pavlik also expects growth to pick up in the second and third quarters, noting a slight increase in retail sales recently. "People are welcoming spring and they're doing it with their wallets."
"The overall market is at or near all-time highs. You need better than expected earnings (to move higher)," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities, noting "this is the first time in the earnings cycle we've seen so many household names miss."
Pending home sales data for March showed an increase of 1.1 percent, the fastest rate since last summer.
Mortgage applications gave back their gains last week, falling exactly as much as they had risen the previous week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). The decline came as interest rates edged higher.
The closed down 7.91 points, at 0.37 percent, at 2,106.85, with health care leading seven laggards and energy the leading advancers.
The Nasdaq closed down 31.78 points, or 0.63 percent, at 5,023.64.
The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 13.
Two stocks declined for every advancer on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 856 million and a composite volume of 4.0 billion in the close.
Crude oil futures settled up $1.52 to $58.58 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its best day since Dec. 11 and up about 40 percent since hitting a low of $42.03 on March 18. Gold futures settled down $3.90 at $1,210.00 an ounce.
MasterCard closed mildly higher after the world's No. 2 debit and credit card company reported a 17 percent rise in quarterly profit as people spent more using its cards and the company paid lower taxes.
Time Warner closed up half a percent higher after the firm reported adjusted quarterly profit of $1.19 per share, 10 cents above estimates, with revenue also above forecasts. The company was helped by "March Madness" programming related to the annual NCAA college basketball tournament.
U.S. Steel closed down 11.6 percent after posting an adjusted quarterly loss of 7 cents per share, surprising Street analysts who had expected a 12 cent per share profit. Revenue also missed estimates, as U.S. Steel said it has been hurt by significant steel imports. The company also lowered its earnings outlook for the full year
Twitter closed down 9 percent, extending losses after it plunged more than 20 percent following the premature release of its quarterly earnings report Tuesday. The numbers disappointed investors with revenue falling short of Street estimates.
Nasdaq apologized on Wednesday morning for an operational issue on Shareholder.com that inadvertently posted the Twitter's earnings ahead of schedule, exposing the release briefly to a third-party scrape.
Lumber Liquidators ended off nearly 20 percent after the firm said it's been advised that the Justice Department is seeking criminal charges against the company relating to the importation of certain products, and that the DOJ probe will likely cost it about $10 million. The company also reported an unexpected loss, and said Chief Financial Officer David Terrell would depart in June.
Reports say Alibaba, the China-based online retail giant, has imposed a hiring freeze, in an effort to make the company more efficient. The stock closed down 3 percent.
U.S. stocks closed mixed on Tuesday, with the Nasdaq in the red as investors were on edge ahead of the Fed statement due Wednesday.
—Reuters and CNBC's Peter Schacknow and Jenny Cosgrave contributed to this report.
On tap this week:
Earnings: Baidu, Marriott, Murphy Oil, Boston Beer, Pilgrim's Pride, Shutterfly, Tempur Sealy
Earnings: ExxonMobil, ConocoPhllips, Royal Dutch Shell, Sanofi, Statoil, BNP Paribas, Visa, AIG, LinkedIn, Colgate-Palmolive, Celgene, Delphi Automotive, Air Products, Cigna, Cardinal Health, Sony, Time Warner Cable, Teva Pharma, Viacom, Beazer Homes, First Solar, FireEye, Dreamworks Animation, Healthsouth
8:30 a.m.: Initial claims, personal income/spending, employment cost index, Fed Gov. Daniel Tarullo
9:45 a.m.: Chicago PMI
Earnings: Chevron, CVS Health, Aon, Calpine, Clorox, Moody's, Newell Rubbermaid, Duke Energy, Weyerhaeuser, TransCanada, VF Corp, Madison Square Garden, Legg Mason, CBOE
8:30 a.m.: Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester
9:45 a.m.: Manufacturing PMI
10 a.m.: ISM manufacturing, construction spending, consumer sentiment
3:45 p.m.: San Francisco Fed President John Williams
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