January 8, 2014 / 4:50 PM / 4 years ago

US STOCKS-Wall St flat ahead of Fed minutes, Micron lifts Nasdaq

* Strong ADP report boosts hopes for payrolls

* Micron, Apollo both jump after strong earnings

* Forest Labs shares rise; will buy peer Aptalis

* Indexes: Dow off 0.4 pct, S&P flat, Nasdaq up 0.3 pct

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Jan 8 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday as investors awaited the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s most recent policy meeting, while strong results from Micron helped boost the Nasdaq.

Minutes of the Fed’s December meeting, at which the U.S. central bank announced its decision to begin trimming its stimulative monthly bond purchases, are out later on Wednesday. Market participants will scour them for details about the tapering, as well as signs of a clear Fed commitment to keeping rates low for a long time.

The Fed’s accommodative policies were a main driver of the S&P’s rally of nearly 30 percent in 2013, and the program is expected to continue to provide a floor under equity prices for as long as it continues.

“Investors are digesting the rally we’ve seen lately as we await more information,” said Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners in Chicago. “Everyone wants to see what was behind the curtain of the last Fed meeting, to see what parameters were discussed with the taper or rates.”

U.S. private employers added 238,000 jobs in December, more than expected and the best read since November 2012, while November 2013 numbers were revised higher.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the report had lifted estimates for the nonfarm payroll report, which will be released on Friday. Analysts currently expect 196,000 jobs to be added in the month, but Zandi said that based on the ADP report, payrolls would show 230,000 jobs created.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 62.94 points, or 0.38 percent, at 16,468.00. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was down 0.52 points, or 0.03 percent, at 1,837.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 12.93 points, or 0.31 percent, at 4,166.12.

Microsoft is closer to naming a new chief executive, according to a source familiar with the board’s thinking, but it lost a front-runner candidate Tuesday when Ford’s chief, Alan Mulally, said he would not be going to the software giant.

Ford rose 1.5 percent to $15.61 while Microsoft fell 1.6 percent to $35.83, pressuring the Dow.

On the upside, both Apollo Education Group Inc and Micron Technology soared a day after reporting higher than expected quarterly profits.

Apollo surged 12 percent to $30.22 and Micron was up 10 percent to $23.93 as the top two percentage gainers on the Nasdaq 100.

The pharma sector continued to be fertile ground for merger and acquisition activity. Forest Laboratories agreed to buy privately held specialty pharmaceutical company Aptalis Holdings Inc for about $2.9 billion. Forest Labs rose 15 percent to $67.76 as the S&P’s biggest gainer.

NuPathe Inc jumped 37 percent to $4.43 after it said it received a buyout offer from Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical for $114 million plus milestone payments related to a migraine treatment.

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