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Stocks close mixed as investors wait on the Fed

INVESTORS held off making big moves while they wait for the Federal Reserve.

Stocks ended mixed but little changed yesterday, one day after a sell-off. Traders are looking for the central bank to outline its expectations for the economy and signal when it might raise interest rates. The Fed's two-day meeting ends today.

According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 16.10, or 0.2 percent, to 8,322.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 2.06, or 0.2 percent, to 895.10, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 1.27, or 0.1 percent, to 1,764.92.

Traders reacted coolly to a report from the National Association of Realtors that May sales of existing homes rose 2.4 percent. The increase was smaller than economists' forecast for 2.8 percent, and not enough to alleviate investors' anxiety about economic reports later in the week on durable goods orders, new home sales and personal spending.

"There's not a lot of conviction on behalf of buyers," said Jim Herrick, manager of equity trading at Baird & Co.

The Fed is widely expected to keep its key interest rate near zero, but investors are unsure how optimistic the policymakers will be in their economic assessment, and whether the central bank will consider raising rates later this year to curb inflation.

Meanwhile, the market was also following the week's US$104 billion in Treasury auctions. The government sold US$40 billion in debt yesterday amid strong demand. Investors have been on edge during such auctions because any signs that a desire for government debt is waning could hit the market.

Treasury demand needs to stay strong for the government to finance its bailout and stimulus programs without significantly raising yields. Bond yields affect borrowing rates for consumers.

The recent selloff, however, has brought very little volatility, and that's a positive sign, said Scott Fullman, director of derivatives investment strategy for WJB Capital Group in New York.

"The fact is, you can't keep going straight up," Fullman said. "There's a chance we'll still see some downward movement in the next week or two - the market really needs a correction."

The biggest loser among the 30 Dow stocks was Boeing Co., which fell US$3.03, or 6.5 percent, to US$43.87 after again delaying the first test flight of its long-awaited 787 jetliner. The company said it needed to reinforce part of the aircraft.

Falling stocks narrowly outnumbered those that rose on New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a light 1.2 billion shares, down from 1.4 billion shares Monday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 3.04, or 0.6 percent, to 489.77.


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