* Investors focused on afternoon's Fed statement
* Dow pulls back from record intraday high
* Credit card companies' stocks plunge, then pare losses
* Shares of Herbalife climb on report George Soros has taken
* Facebook trades above IPO price of $38 for first time
* Dow up 0.1 pct; S&P up 0.2 pct; Nasdaq up 0.4 pct
By Alison Griswold
NEW YORK, July 31 U.S. stocks held slim gains on
Wednesday, pulling back from session highs after
stronger-than-expected data on jobs and the economy, as
investors waited for a Federal Reserve statement that could
spell out the U.S. central bank's stimulus plans for the coming
The Fed's statement, due at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) at the end of
a two-day meeting, will be parsed for clues on when the central
bank may begin to trim its $85 billion a month in stimulative
bond purchases as the economic recovery takes hold. The Fed's
stimulus is seen by many as central to the stock market's gain
of nearly 19 percent so far this year.
U.S. gross domestic product growth unexpectedly accelerated
in the second quarter at an annualized rate of 1.7 percent, and
private-sector employers added 200,000 jobs in July, topping
"It looks like this market wants to go higher. The GDP
number that came out this morning was a big surprise," said
Catherine Avery, president of Catherine Avery Investment
Management in New Canaan, Connecticut.
"The big thing is: What's going to happen this afternoon
when we get the Fed statements? Do we get a tapering? Do we not
get a tapering?"
Six of the 10 S&P 500 industry sector indexes moved higher,
with growth-sensitive cyclical shares leading the gains. The S&P
500 consumer discretionary index added 0.6 percent and
the S&P 500 energy index rose 0.2 percent.
Comcast Corp gave the S&P 500 its biggest boost
after the U.S. cable provider posted a higher quarterly profit
on Wednesday, as it added more Internet customers than expected
on the cable side and booked an increase of more than 20 percent
in operating cash flow at its NBC Universal unit.
Credit card companies' shares plunged briefly in afternoon
trading, with Visa shedding 8.9 percent in less than 25
minutes to hit a session low of $171.22. In the same period,
Mastercard dropped 7.5 percent to a session low of
$567.33 and Dow component American Express fell 1.8
The companies' stocks pared their losses over the next 20
minutes, with Visa down 3.4 percent at $185.01 and American
Express off 1.3 percent at $74.25. Mastercard erased its losses
and rose 1.5 percent to $610.05.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 13.59 points,
or 0.09 percent, to 15,534.18, off a record intraday high of
15,634.32 touched at about 10:38 a.m. The Standard & Poor's 500
Index added 3.37 points, or 0.20 percent, to 1,689.33.
The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 12.94 points, or 0.36
percent, to 3,629.40.
The Nasdaq hit a nearly 13-year intraday high of 3,638.43 at
about 10:50 a.m., according to a Thomson Reuters chart.
Shares of Herbalife shot up 9.6 percent to $65.78
after CNBC reported that billionaire George Soros has taken a
large long position in the nutritional supplement company,
citing sources on the matter. Herbalife's stock jumped as high
as $66.25 on the report, its highest price since May 2012.
The S&P 500, up 5.5 percent so far in July, is on track for
its biggest monthly percentage gain since October 2011.
Facebook Inc's stock traded above its initial public
offering price of $38 for the first time since its market debut
in May 2012, a milestone for the stock and a chance to erase
Wall Street's early skepticism about the social networking
company. The stock rose as high as $38.31, but then gave up its
gains. In early afternoon trading, Facebook's stock fell 2.5
percent to $36.67.
Air Products & Chemicals shares gained 3.4 percent
to $109.17 after activist investor William Ackman said his
Pershing Square Capital Management has acquired a 9.8 percent
stake in the industrial gas producer.
Symantec shares rose 8.4 percent to $26.39 a day
after the maker of Norton anti-virus software posted
better-than-expected quarterly results as customers used more of
its security products in the wake of a series of hacking
With quarterly results in from 66 percent of the S&P 500
companies, 67.7 percent have exceeded earnings expectations - in
line with the average beat over the last four quarters. About 56
percent of companies have topped revenue expectations, more than
the 48 percent of revenue beats in the past four earnings
seasons but below the historical average, Thomson Reuters data