* Alcoa higher after earnings
* Fed minutes on tap at 2 p.m. ET
* Intuitive Surgical slumps after outlook
* Indexes up: Dow 0.29 pct, S&P 0.26 pct, Nasdaq 0.64 pct (Updates to open; adds quote, data)
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks edged higher on Wednesday, putting the S&P 500 on track for a second straight advance, in the wake of earnings from Alcoa and ahead of the minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting.
Alcoa Inc gained 4.5 percent to $13.09 as the best performer on the S&P 500 after it reported a decline in first quarter adjusted profit, but earnings came in ahead of analysts’ expectations.
U.S. stocks had advanced in the prior session to snap a three-day losing streak as investors bought beaten-down social media and Internet shares.
Despite the three-day selloff, the benchmark S&P 500 index managed to hold above its 50-day moving average around 1,840, a key support level. The index has successfully defended the 1,840 area several times over the past month.
“These kind of consolidation rallies really take time to shake out the emotion that goes with both sides,” said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Earnings will really help give this market some forward direction but they are in front of us and haven’t really hit yet.”
S&P 500 companies’ first-quarter earnings are projected to have increased just 1 percent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed. The forecast is down sharply from the start of the year, when profit growth was estimated at 6.5 percent.
The Fed is expected to release the minutes from its March 18-19 meeting at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT). The Fed needs to be more specific about what economic conditions would prompt it to raise interest rates from current rock-bottom levels, a pair of top Fed officials normally at odds on policy said on Tuesday.
Earnings season gets under way this week, with results due from retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond after the close, while financials JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co close out the week with results on Friday.
Investors will be looking at the impact of harsh winter weather on first-quarter earnings, and signs of optimism for the second-quarter.
The Dow Jones industrial average rose 46.53 points or 0.29 percent, to 16,302.67, the S&P 500 gained 4.82 points or 0.26 percent, to 1,856.78 and the Nasdaq Composite added 26.234 points or 0.64 percent, to 4,139.221.
U.S. wholesale inventories rose at a slower 0.5 percent pace in February, in line with expectations, after a revised 0.8 percent gain in January, which could support views that restocking will not help the economy in the first quarter.
General Motors Co shares lost 1.8 percent to $33.90. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the automaker is being fined $7,000 a day for missing an April 3 deadline to provide information about its recall of 2.6 million cars for defective ignition switches. Morgan Stanley subsequently cut the stock to an “underweight” rating.
Intuitive Surgical Inc estimated first-quarter revenue well below analysts’ average expectation, mainly due to a 60 percent drop in sales of its flagship da Vinci robot system. Its shares slumped 7.3 percent to $454.04. The PHLX medical device index lost 0.9 percent.
Constant Contact Inc surged 27.8 percent to $28.02 after the online marketer said it expects quarterly revenue to rise by more than 15 percent. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)