* FedEx results miss Wall Street estimates, shares dip
* Lennar shares up after results; Jabil slides on outlook
* Ford tumbles, sees lower North American pre-tax profit
* Nov housing starts at highest in nearly six years
* Indexes: Dow up 0.39 pct, S&P up 0.19 pct, Nasdaq off 0.08
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Dec 18 U.S. stocks edged up on
Wednesday, with markets on tenterhooks ahead of the Federal
Reserve's last policy announcement of the year, which might
determine the immediate future of its 15-month long program to
stimulate the economy.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will follow the 2:00 p.m. EST
(1900 GMT) announcement with his final press conference at the
helm of the U.S. central bank at 2:30 p.m.
Many expect the Fed to continue its quantitative easing
program at the current pace of $85 billion monthly asset
purchases into next year. Still, sturdier recent economic data
led some to believe it is time to take the training wheels off
the world's largest economy and to allow it to progress on its
Data on Wednesday showed U.S. housing starts surged to their
highest in nearly six years in November, a sign of strength in
the housing market that could support a Fed decision to soon
start cutting back its bond purchases.
"I don't think the market should ignore these numbers as an
indication the consumer is in decent shape," said Paul Zemsky,
head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management in New
"The reaction from the market is not too strong before the
Fed, as nobody wants to take on a big position in the morning."
The stimulus has kept a lid on borrowing costs and flooded
markets with liquidity, boosting an equities rally. The S&P 500
closed at a record high on Dec. 9.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 61.62 points or
0.39 percent, to 15,936.88, the S&P 500 gained 3.38
points or 0.19 percent, to 1,784.38 and the Nasdaq Composite
dropped 3.018 points or 0.08 percent, to 4,020.662.
Apple and Micron weighed on the Nasdaq, with
the iPhone maker down 1.5 percent at $546.73 and Micron off 7.5
percent at $21.20.
Ford shares fell 5.4 percent to $15.80 after the
carmaker said it expects North American pre-tax profit to be
lower in 2014 than in 2013.
FedEx Corp's quarterly results missed Wall Street
estimates as revenue declined at its biggest unit. Its shares
edged down 0.4 percent to $138.50.
CVS Caremark said it expects sales and earnings to
rise in 2014 even though it anticipated only a "modest" benefit
next year from the launch of the U.S. Affordable Care Act. Its
shares jumped 3 percent to $68.82.
Jabil Circuit shares tumbled 21.6 percent to $15.47
a day after the contract electronics maker said it would sell
its warranty repair business and forecast current-quarter
results way below Wall Street estimates.
Shares of Lennar Corp rose 3.3 percent to $36.35 the
No. 3 U.S. homebuilder reported a 32 percent jump in
General Mills fell 2.2 percent to $48.47 after it
reported lower-than-expected quarterly results and said
full-year profit could come in at the lower end of its forecast.