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Stocks end mixed after Fed minutes, but Dow posts 9th straight record close

U.S. equities closed mixed Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's previous meeting hinted that a rate hike coming "fairly soon."

"We're back to figuring out what very ambiguous terms mean," said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. " For today, the market is interpreting this as not much has changed."

The Dow Jones industrial average closed about 30 points higher and notched its ninth straight record close, with DuPont and 3m contributing the most gains. Shares of DuPont rose after a Reuters report, citing sources, that EU antitrust regulators are set to clear DuPont's merger with Dow Chemical.

The S&P 500 ended about 0.11 percent lower, with energy falling 1.59 percent to lead decliners. U.S. crude oil futures settled 1.36 percent lower at 53.59 per barrel.

"Based on the initial move, the market was hoping for more dovish language," said Mike Bailey, director of research at FBB Capital Partners. "I think this is pretty hedged language. It gives [Fed Chair] Janet Yellen some breathing room. This could mean anything between March and June."

The Nasdaq composite closed 0.09 percent lower.

"Many participants expressed the view that it might be appropriate to raise the federal funds rate again fairly soon" if data on jobs and inflation are "in line with or stronger than their current expectations" or if risks increased that the Fed might overshoot its goals, the meeting summary stated.

Wall Street was eagerly awaiting the release of these minutes, as they looked for more clues about when — and how many times — the Fed would raise rates this year.

Janet Yellen NYSE

"Fed officials have been hawkish and the economic data points to an expanding economy," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial. "We know the Fed wants to raise rates because they've told us."

Treasury yields were lower, with the 10-year yield around 2.41 percent after earlier hitting a near 2-week low of 2.391 percent. The 2-year yield held near 1.21 percent.

The Treasury Department auctioned $34 billion in 5-year notes at a high yield of 1.937 percent. The bid-to-cover ratio, an indicator of demand, was 2.29.

The dollar erased slight gains against a basket of currencies following the Fed's release. The euro traded near $1.057.

"It seems like the market is not convinced that the pace of normalization is speeding up," said Peter Ng, senior FX trader at Silicon Valley Bank. "Personally, I think the conditions are right for a rate hike now."

The Fed's policymaking committee is scheduled to meet again on March 15, with market expectations for a rate hike then around 27 percent, according to the CME Group's FedWatch tool.

"This potential action could admittedly precipitate aggressive selling among concerned market participants, yet share prices would likely recover quickly in the absence of any promises made by the Fed to pare its balance sheet in the short term," said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities, in a note.

In economic news, weekly mortgage applications fell 2 percent for the week ending Feb. 17 amid lackluster refinancing. Existing home sales rose 3.3 percent in January.

Stocks managed record highs across the board Tuesday amid solid earnings from Dow components Home Depot and Wal-Mart and General H.R. McMaster's naming as President Donald Trump's national security advisor.

The U.S. equity market has been on a tear since Trump's election as investors have piled on to bets that the new administration will be able to push through tax reform and deregulation. However, rising valuations are a growing concern.

"Valuations don't matter until they do and certainly haven't mattered for a while but we can't deny the fact of where stocks are trading relative to other historical peaks," said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group.

Entering Wednesday, the S&P's price-to-earnings ratio hovered around 21.7, while forward price-to-earnings held near 19.4, according to FactSet.

Overseas, European equities closed mixed, as the pan-European Stoxx 600 fell 0.01 percent. Meanwhile, the 10-year German bund yield hit its lowest level in five weeks as geopolitical concerns remained.

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S&P 500
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NASDAQ
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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 32.60 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 20,775.60, with DuPont leading advancers and Intel underperforming.

The S&P 500 fell 2.56 points, or 0.11 percent, to end at 2,362.82, with energy leading five sectors lower and utilities outperforming.

The Nasdaq composite declined 5.32 points, or 0.09 percent, to close at 5,860.63.

About four stocks declined for every three advancers at the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 824.83 million and a composite volume of 3.455 billion at the close.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded near 11.7.

On tap this week:

Wednesday

Earnings: Tesla Motors, L Brands, HP, Cheesecake Factory, Boston Beer, Fitbit, Iamgold,

Thursday

Earnings: Barclays, Kohl's, Gap, Nordstrom, Chesapeake Energy, Hormel Foods, Seadrill, Cinemark, AMC Networks, Kate Spade, Baidu, Splunk Imax, Intuit, Axa, NovoCure, Pinnacle Foods, Wayfair, Canadian Imperial Bank

8:30 a.m. Initial claims

8:30 a.m. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart

9:00 a.m. FHFA home prices

9:45 a.m. Service PMI

1:00 p.m. 7-year note auction

Friday

Earnings: JC Penney, Royal Bank of Canada, Foot Locker, Public Service, Rowan Cos

10:00 a.m. New home sales

10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment

—CNBC's Jeff Cox contributed to this report.