* S&P 500 coming off two-day rally, near record close
* Fed statement largely as expected
* First Solar jumps after outlook
* Indexes off: Dow 0.19 pct; S&P 500 0.14 pct; Nasdaq 0.17 pct (Adds Fed announcement)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, March 19 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged lower on Wednesday as after the release of the Federal Reserve’s policy statement and looked ahead to comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.
The central bank dropped the U.S. unemployment rate as its definitive yardstick for gauging the economy’s strength, and made clear it would rely on a wide range of measures in deciding when to raise interest rates. The Fed also said it would cut its monthly purchases of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities to $55 billion, from $65 billion.
“Other areas of the economy are continuing to show signs of gradual improvement, but the Fed was looking for a much stronger economic background before it would start any type of tightening efforts, so it would continue to support liquidity in the marketplace,” said Paul Mangus, head of equity research and strategy at Wells Fargo Private Bank in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The one difference I could see early on, of course we want to hear more from the chair in the press conference, was a little bit more information on when and by how much the Fed may increase rates in 2015.”
Fed Chair Janet Yellen was holding a news conference, her first as chair.
The S&P 500 was within 1 percent of its intraday record high, though economic bellwether FedEx Corp hit a sour note in its outlook. Geopolitical concerns related to Ukraine also stayed in focus.
FedEx posted results below expectations and gave a weak full-year profit forecast, but the package shipper said it had been significantly hurt by winter storms, and the stock slipped 0.3 percent to $138.21.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 31.56 points or 0.19 percent, to 16,304.63, the S&P 500 lost 2.53 points or 0.14 percent, to 1,869.72 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 7.471 points or 0.17 percent, to 4,325.842.
Equities have rallied this week, buoyed by easing geopolitical concerns, though trading volume has been light. The S&P 500 has climbed 1.7 percent over the past two days, the best back-to-back performance for the benchmark index since early February.
Ukraine’s acting defense minister said the country’s forces would not withdraw from Crimea after the region voted to join Russia in a disputed referendum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a treaty to make Crimea part of Russia. While no violence was reported as pro-Russian forces took control of part of a Ukraine naval base, investors are concerned that tensions in the region could escalate.
First Solar Inc surged 17 percent to $67.24 and ranked as the S&P 500’s best performer after the company gave its outlook for 2014 and 2015. (Additional reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Editing by Jan Paschal and Nick Zieminski)