* Fed announces monetary policy decision at 12:30 p.m. ET
* Fed set to keep buying $85 bln per month in assets
* Berkshire Hathaway up after stock-buyback announcement
* Dow up 0.1 pct; S&P 500 up 0.2 pct; Nasdaq off 0.1 pct
By Gabriel Debenedetti
NEW YORK, Dec 12 U.S. stocks mostly gained on
Wednesday, but the moves were slim before the U.S. Federal
Reserve's expected announcement of a new stimulus plan at the
end of its two-day monetary policy meeting.
The Fed is expected to detail a new round of bond buying
later on Wednesday to boost a fragile economic recovery
threatened by political wrangling over the government's budget.
The Federal Open Market Committee's monetary policy decision is
expected around 12:30 p.m. ET (1730 GMT)
The S&P 500 was up for a sixth straight day, its longest
winning streak since August, although gains have been less than
0.5 percent per day, on average, in part due to uncertainty over
the "fiscal cliff" negotiations.
The Fed looks certain to extend purchases of mortgage-backed
debt and replace another expiring stimulus program, and the FOMC
is likely to reiterate that it will keep buying bonds until the
labor market improves substantially.
"The market is waiting on the Fed, anticipating the open
check to be out again, but we will see. Anything less than
enormous will be disappointing to the market," said Joe Saluzzi,
co-founder of New Jersey-based brokerage Themis Trading LLC.
Shares of Aetna, the third-largest U.S. health
insurer, jumped 4.3 percent to $46.39 a day after the company
gave a higher forecast for profit and revenue growth next year.
Late on Tuesday, Aetna forecast higher operating earnings in
2013 and revenue growth of 9 percent as the health insurer's
medical plans add more members.
The Dow Jones industrial average edged up 7.44
points, or 0.06 percent, to 13,255.88. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index rose 2.95 points, or 0.21 percent, to 1,430.79. But
the Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 2.98 points, or 0.10
percent, at 3,019.32.
A slide in Wal-Mart Stores shares accounted for the
biggest point drag on the Dow at midday. Wal-Mart's stock fell
2.3 percent to $69.26 after India's government announced an
inquiry into the company's lobbying practices. [ID: nL4N09M18H]
With just two weeks of trading left this year, the S&P 500
is up about 14 percent so far. It ended the year flat in 2011.
Shares in Berkshire Hathaway shot up 2.4 percent to
$133,975 after the company announced a $1.2 billion stock
repurchase and raised the price at which it is willing to buy
back shares. The shares were temporarily halted ahead of the
Asset manager BlackRock said it expected the S&P 500 to hit
new heights in 2013 and reach 1,600 by the end of the year,
surpassing its previous peak of 1,576.09 in 2007.
Negotiations intensified on Wednesday to avoid the automatic
spending cuts and tax hikes of the "fiscal cliff" that would set
in next year, as President Barack Obama and U.S. House of
Representatives Speaker John Boehner spoke by phone on Tuesday
after exchanging new proposals.
But Boehner said there were still "serious differences"
between them over how to avoid the cliff on Wednesday.
"I think that concerns are still lingering about the ability
of Congress to get something done on the fiscal cliff, and
that's not making people very confident," said Michael James,
senior trader at Wedbush Morgan in Los Angeles.
3M Co pointed to a profit rise of about 8 percent
next year as the U.S. economy continues its slow recovery. The
stock was down 0.75 percent at $92.97.
Costco Wholesale Corp posted a better-than-expected
30 percent rise in quarterly profit, but its stock was nearly
flat at $98.41, up just up 0.1 percent.