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US stocks close mostly higher after Fed minutes; utilities jump more than 1 pct

U.S. stocks closed mostly higher on Wednesday as investors digested the release of the Federal Reserve's July meeting.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 20 points higher, with 3M contributing the most gains. The S&P 500 gained approximately 0.2 percent, with utilities advancing more than 1 percent. The Nasdaq composite underperformed, barely closing above break-even.

U.S. Treasurys traded higher after the minutes were released, with the two-year note yield at 0.73 percent and the benchmark 10-year yield at 1.55 percent.

"It appears there are not a lot of fireworks ... that came out of this set of minutes," said Bill Northey, chief investment officer at the Private Client Group at U.S. Bank. He also said "this is setting up for one more move" which, in his opinion, will take place in December.

Some voting Federal Reserve policymakers expect that a U.S. interest rate increase will be needed soon, although there is general agreement that more data is needed before such a move, according to the minutes from the Fed's July policy meeting.

"Some ... members anticipated that economic conditions would soon warrant taking another step in removing policy accommodation," the Fed said in the minutes..

Mark Spellman, portfolio manager at Alpine Funds, said after the minutes were released that "the market doesn't believe what they say, though." "In the last couple of days, you had some Fed governors saying the market isn't discounting enough of a chance of a rate hike — and the minutes say that, too."

Still, he said "in those minutes, I don't think there's anything that's going to change a lot of opinions" about the Fed.

About 20 minutes before the minutes were released, the Dow traded about 10 points higher, while the benchmark S&P 500 held near flat. The Nasdaq held slightly lower.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

"The vast majority of Fed meeting and/or Fed minute days we open lower and then we continue with an upward bias," Adam Sarhan, CEO of Sarhan Capital, said ahead of the minutes' release. "Buyers are stepping in on hopes that easy money will continue. Until that changes, easy money should be bought, not sold."

Mark Heppenstall, CIO of Penn Mutual Asset Management, said "the path of least resistance until after Labor Day is higher," even after the Fed minutes were released, noting he thinks the Fed will not raise rates until after the elections are over. "I think if we get another strong jobs report, that could change things."

The Dow fell as much as 80 points at its session lows, before the three major indexes began paring losses in early afternoon trade.

"There is some anxiety that the Fed may not be as dormant as some people might think," Bruce McCain, chief investment strategist at Key Private Bank, said before the minutes were released.

Investors were looking for signs and clues about when the next rate hike will be coming, particularly after hawkish comments made by some Fed officials.

"We got some vocal Fed [officials] suggesting a rate hike soon, but I don't think they will hike in September," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial.

On Tuesday, New York Fed President William Dudley said a rate hike could come next month. Meanwhile, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said the U.S. economy is strong enough to withstand at least one increase this year.

Dow Jones industrial average intraday chartSource: FactSet

"His message was clear: the market is far too complacent about the rate hike and this was enough to prop up the dollar," Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Think Markets, said in a Wednesday note to clients, referring to Dudley's comments.

Market expectations for a September rate hike fell to 12 percent from 18 percent Wednesday, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool.

"Everything is predicated on the fact that we've had a pretty solid run," said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at Wunderlich Securities. "I think the big thing is whether we should react to a more hawkish Fed. ... I would argue we shouldn't."

Stocks have traded in a very tight range amid low volume and little volatility recently. In fact, the S&P has gone 27 straight trading days without moving 1 percent in any direction on a closing basis. The CBOE Volatility index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near lower, near 12.2.

U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday, a day after the three major indexes posted simultaneous record highs.

"Yesterday was odd because the dollar was lower against most major currencies and we still sold off," said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Boston Private Wealth.

The U.S. dollar fell nearly 1 percent against a basket of currencies Tuesday. It fell about 0.02 percent Wednesday. The yen was flat versus the greenback, near 100.3, while the euro held near $1.1286.

On the oil front, U.S. crude rose 0.45 percent to settle at $46.79 a barrel, after Energy Information Administration data showed oil inventories decreased by 2.5 million barrels last week.

Wall Street also digested a number of quarterly reports before the bell, including Lowe's and Target.

Overseas, European stocks fell, with the Stoxx 600 index slipping 0.83 percent. In Asia, stocks closed mixed, with the Nikkei 225 rising 0.9 percent and the Shanghai composite ending marginally lower.

Symbol
Name
Price
 
Change
%Change
DJIA
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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones industrial average closed 21.92 points higher, or 0.12 percent, at 18,573.94, with Pfizer leading advancers and Cisco Systems the biggest laggard.

The S&P 500 gained 4.07 points, or 0.19 percent, to close at 2,182.22, with utilities leading seven sectors higher and consumer discretionary the top decliner.

The Nasdaq rose 1.55 points, or 0.03 percent, to end at 5,228.66.

Advancers were a step ahead of decliners at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 777 million and a composite volume of 3.329 billion at the close.

Gold futures for December delivery settled $8.10 lower at $1,348.80 per ounce.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect Dudley and Lockhart spoke on Tuesday, not Wednesday.

—Reuters contributed to this report.

On tap this week:

*Planner subject to change.

Wednesday

Earnings: L Brands, NetApp, Eaton Vance, American Eagle Outfitters, Performance Food, CACI

2 p.m. FOMC minutes

Thursday

Earnings: Wal-Mart, Applied Materials, Gap, Ross Stores, Hormel Foods, Mentor Graphics, Nestle

8:30 a.m. Initial claims; Philadelphia Fed survey

10 a.m. New York Fed President William Dudley

4 p.m. San Francisco Fed President John Williams

Friday

Earnings: Deere, Estee Lauder, Foot Locker, Madison Square Garden, The Buckle