* Most policymakers say change to stimulus now not
* Retail stocks drop after results, Staples sinks
* Home resales hit more than three-year high
* Indexes off: Dow 0.7 pct, S&P 0.58 pct, Nasdaq 0.38 pct
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Aug 21 U.S. stocks ended lower in
choppy trading on Wednesday after minutes from the U.S. Federal
Reserve's July meeting offered few clues on the timing of a
reduction in its bond-buying program.
Minutes from the meeting showed almost all the policymakers
on the central bank's Federal Open Market Committee agreed that
a change to the stimulus was not yet appropriate, and only a few
thought it would soon be time to "slow somewhat" the pace of the
"The minutes didn't tell us much. It tells us that like
everybody else the Fed is confused and they are not getting any
clear signals from the economy. That is what you see in an
economy bumbling along at 2 percent," said Erik Davidson, deputy
chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank in San
The release of the minutes in midafternoon sparked
volatility in equity markets, as the major indexes fluctuated
between session lows and highs in the final hours of trading.
The volatility was exacerbated by light volume, with about
5.58 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, NYSE
MKT and Nasdaq, below the daily average of 6.31 billion.
Yields on the 10-year U.S. Treasuries note rose
after the announcement, touching 2.89 percent.
Market participants have been cautious recently, with the
S&P 500 dropping for five of the past six sessions amid
uncertainty over how soon the Fed will begin to wind down its
$85 billion a month stimulus program.
"It's only a question of how much they are going to let up
on the gas. There is no question they will not be tapping on the
brakes," said Davidson.
Some Fed officials have said the policy, which has fueled
Wall Street's steep gains this year, could be slowed as early as
September, assuming economic growth meets its targets.
Economic data earlier on Wednesday showed U.S. home resales
rose in July to their highest level in over three years,
suggesting that a surge in mortgage rates is having only a
limited impact on the housing market recovery.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 105.52 points
or 0.7 percent, to 14,897.47, the S&P 500 lost 9.53
points or 0.58 percent, to 1,642.82 and the Nasdaq Composite
dropped 13.801 points or 0.38 percent, to 3,599.79.
The Dow has fallen for six straight sessions, matching the
longest losing streak since July 2012.
Retailers were in focus for a second consecutive day, with
earnings reports from Lowe's, Target and others. The S&P retail
index fell 0.8 percent.
Staples reported weaker-than-expected quarterly
results on dismal sales in international markets and cut its
outlook for the year. Shares slumped 15.3 percent to $14.27 as
the S&P's worst performer.
Target warned its annual profit may be near the low
end of its forecast as consumer spending remains cautious,
sending shares down 3.6 percent to $65.50.
Petsmart dropped 5.3 percent to $71 after its
results, while American Eagle Outfitters tumbled 9.9
percent to $14.76 after giving a weak outlook.
On the upside, home improvement chain Lowe's rose
3.9 percent to $45.81 after it reported a bigger-than-expected
rise in profit and sales as the housing market's recovery
encouraged people to spend more on their homes.
Declining stocks outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by
2,193 to 834, while on the Nasdaq, decliners beat advancers
1,696 to 808.