US STOCKS-Dow dips, S&P 500 inches up after Fed minutes

Wed Jul 10, 2013 4:32pm EDT

* FOMC minutes show members want more job gains before slowing QE

* Family Dollar shares at seven-month high after earnings

* Dow off 0.1 pct, S&P 500 flat, Nasdaq up 0.5 pct

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK, July 10 (Reuters) - The Dow slipped and the S&P 500 edged up less than a point on Wednesday, interrupting a four-day rally, with investors trying to gauge when the Federal Reserve may scale back on its economic stimulus.

Minutes from the Federal Reserve's June policy meeting released on Wednesday afternoon showed many officials wanted more reassurance that the labor market was improving before reining in stimulus measures. Even so, consensus built within the Fed about the likely need to begin pulling back soon.

The three major U.S. stock indexes recovered some ground immediately following the release of the minutes. But the gains were short-lived as investors parsed the details of the minutes. The Dow closed slightly lower to break a four-day winning streak, while the broader S&P 500 eked out a tiny gain.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke spooked investors last month when he said the economy's expansion was strong enough for the central bank to start slowing the pace of its bond purchases later this year.

Some in the market have pegged September as when the Fed could potentially start pulling back. Still, the minutes suggested that was not a foregone conclusion.

"The minutes are more consistent with the messages we've been getting since the Fed meeting, which is that we should expect this to occur slowly and it may not happen in September," said Kate Warne, investment strategist at Edward Jones in St Louis.

"This, if anything, raises the uncertainty about will it be September or December."

The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 8.68 points, or 0.06 percent, to end at 15,291.66. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index inched up just 0.30 of a point, or 0.02 percent, to finish at 1,652.62. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 16.50 points, or 0.47 percent, to 3,520.76.

The S&P 500 has risen more than 2 percent over the past five sessions, pushing the benchmark index to just about 1 percent below its May 21 all-time closing high of 1,669.16.

With the Fed's quantitative easing program a significant driver of this year's rally in the stock market, the question of when and by how much the central bank could pull back has been a major focal point for investors.

After an initial selloff following Bernanke's comments in June, equities have taken a more positive tone in recent days on optimism that the economy is indeed on firm enough ground to justify slowing the $85 billion a month in bond purchases, known as quantitative easing, or "QE."

That view was reinforced by last week's stronger-than-expected jobs report for June.

"The fear was that the Fed would remove QE for non-economic reasons, like they were worried about bubbles or that the cost of QE was exceeding its benefit ... and that got the equity market nervous," said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of multi-asset strategies at ING U.S. Investment Management in New York.

"Now when you start to see employment numbers come in like the Fed's forecast had expected, then it's appropriate that they taper."

In the retail sector, Family Dollar Stores Inc shot up 7.1 percent to $68.50. The stock was the S&P 500's top performer after the discount chain posted quarterly earnings and ended at a seven-month high.

On the downside, Nabors Industries Ltd slid 6.3 percent to $14.99. The stock was the S&P 500's worst performer after the owner of the world's largest land-drilling rig fleet warned on Tuesday that its second-quarter operating profit would fall short of market expectations.

Fastenal Co declined 2.8 percent to $45.77 after the industrial and construction supply company posted second-quarter earnings that matched Wall Street's expectations.

Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning showed that analysts expect S&P 500 companies' earnings to grow 2.6 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, while revenue is forecast to increase 1.5 percent from a year ago.

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