Stocks end lower after Fed releases minutes

A man walks in front of the New York Stock Exchange late last year.
  • Markets adopt cautious tone.
  • Indexes jumped higher in prior session.
  • Obama signs ‘fiscal cliff’ bill.
  • NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks finished lower Thursday after minutes of the most recent Federal Reserve meeting showed some members favored slowing or stopping the Fed’s bond buying in 2013.

    The bond purchases are aimed at keeping interest rates low to support the weak economic recovery. The Fed’s policymaking Open Market Committee said it would keep key rates low as long as unemployment stays above 6.5%.

    Of the three major indexes, the Nasdaq fell the most, down 0.4%, a loss of 11 points. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.2%, shedding 22 points.

    Earlier in the session the S&P 500 came within a point of a new bull-market high of 1,465.77 but it, too, fell on the Fed news. It ended down 0.2%, losing three points on the day to finish at 1,459.37.

    Earlier Thursday, stocks traded in a narrow range.

    Retailers reported mixed sales and the prospect of a new budget battle in Congress helped nudge stocks lower.

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    UnitedHealth Group led the Dow lower, sinking 4.7% to $51.99 after analysts at Deutsche Bank and other firms cut their ratings on the insurer’s stock.

    The Dow soared 308 points Wednesday, largest point gain since December 2011. The rally was ignited after lawmakers passed a bill to avoid a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be known as the “fiscal cliff.”.

    The law passed late Tuesday night averted a disastrous outcome for now, but other fiscal squabbles are already looming in Congress, including another disagreement over raising the government’s borrowing limit.

    Ross Stores led the S&P 500 with an 8% gain to $58.78 per share. The retailer said sales at stores open at least a year increased 11% during the holiday shopping season.

    Nordstom surged 3.1% after the department-store chain also reported strong holiday sales, especially in the South and Midwest. Nordstrom’s stock ended at $55.28.

    Other retailers struggled.

    Family Dollar Stores sank 13.1% after reporting earnings that fell short of analysts’ projections. The company also forecast a weaker outlook for the current period and full year. Family Dollar’s stock ended at $55.66.

    Hormel Foods, known for making Spam and other meat products, said Thursday that it’s buying Skippy, the No. 2 U.S. Peanut butter brand, for about $700 million, from Unilever. Hormel’s stock jumped 3.7% to $33.20.

    The 10-year Treasury yield increased 3.3%, rising to 1.9%. Gold declined 1.4%, to $1,664.80.

    Contributing: Associated Press.

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