S&P 500 closes flat on Wednesday as investors assess the Fed's next move, Russia-Ukraine risk

Paramount, PayPal, and NVIDIA are some of today's stock picks: Pro Market Movers Feb. 16
Paramount, PayPal, and NVIDIA are today's stock picks: Pro Market Movers Feb. 16

The S&P 500 closed flat after volatile trading Wednesday as investors surveyed the latest update from the Federal Reserve and the status of Russia's military build-up near Ukraine.

The benchmark index inched up less than 0.1% to 4,475.01. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 54.57 points lower, or 0.2% at 34,934.27. The blue-chip index was down more than 300 points at its lows. The Nasdaq Composite ticked down 0.1% to 14,124.10.


The major averages cut some losses following the release of the minutes from the Fed's January meeting.

Traders were perhaps a bit relieved the release did not indicate the Fed would move any faster than already expected in hiking interest rates.

"There was nothing in the minutes that suggested the Fed would be more aggressive than what the market has already priced in," Charlie Ripley, senior investment strategist for Allianz Investment Management, said.

The minutes affirmed that the central bank is ready to raise interest rates and begin shrinking its balance sheet "soon."

"Most participants noted that, if inflation does not move down as they expect, it would be appropriate for the Committee to remove policy accommodation at a faster pace than they currently anticipate," the minutes said.

On the data front, retail sales surged 3.8% in January, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. Economists expected the report to show sales rose 2.1% in January after a 1.9% decline in December.

ViacomCBS was the biggest loser in the S&P 500 on Wednesday, with shares falling more than 17% after the company said it is rebranding itself as Paramount Global to focus on streaming. The company also reported lower-than-expected quarterly earnings.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms shares fell 2% after the tech giant reportedly rolled out a new set of corporate values in its latest attempt to manage its demoralized employees.

Investors continued to monitor the latest developments regarding Russia-Ukraine conflict.

NATO officials on Wednesday accused Russia of amassing troops at the Ukrainian border. U.S. and Russian aircraft in the Mediterranean Sea flew close to each other over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Energy prices, which have been sensitive to the news, moved higher Wednesday. Natural gas rose more than 7%. Oil futures settled 1.7% higher at $93.66 per barrel.

Devon Energy, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes were among the top gainers on the S&P 500 on Wednesday.

The Cboe Volatility Index — known as Wall Street's "fear gauge" — slipped to around the 25 level.

"Geopolitical risk is something that's very, very hard to trade and it's something that we like to not overplay, so ... you kind of have to wait out," Delano Saporu, CEO of New Street Advisors Group, told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

President Joe Biden on Tuesday afternoon addressed the latest developments between Russia and Ukraine, reiterating that the U.S. will defend NATO territory.

"If Russia proceeds, we will rally the world," Biden said, adding that Washington's allies were ready to impose powerful sanctions that will "undermine Russia's ability to compete economically and strategically."

The comments came after the Russian government said earlier on Tuesday that some troops who had been on the Ukrainian border had returned to their bases.

This helped boost sentiment on Wall Street, with the major averages snapping a three-day losing streak Tuesday.

—CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report.