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US: Stocks little changed ahead of Fed; oil shares fall


[NEW YORK] Wall Street stocks finished little changed on Monday as the market absorbed losses in petroleum stocks while looking ahead to a two-day US Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting that begins on Tuesday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 12.53 points (0.07 per cent) to 16,817.94.

The broad-based S&P 500 dipped 2.95 (0.15 per cent) to 1,961.63 , while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index edged up 2.22 (0.05 per cent) to 4,484.93.

Investors are looking to Wednesday's Fed meeting to see if the central bank will follow through on its plan to end its bond-buying programme and offer any additional comment on its expectations to raise benchmark interest rates in 2015.

Investors hammered petroleum stocks, including oil services company Halliburton (-6.1 per cent) and Marathon Oil Co. (-4.4 per cent), after Goldman Sachs slashed its forecast for first-quarter 2015 oil prices. Dow members ExxonMobil and Chevron both dropped 0.8 per cent.

Dow component Merck fell 2.0 per cent as it reported a 20.4 per cent drop in third-quarter earnings to US$895 million on revenues that came in below expectations. The results translated into earnings of 90 cents per share, two cents above analyst forecasts.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals of Canada advanced 1.1 per cent as it signaled it would raise its bid for Allergan to US$60 billion. Botox-maker Allergan lost 1.0 per cent following earnings that translated into US$1.78 per share, 10 cents above analyst forecasts.

Banana producer Chiquita Brands International gained 1.4 per cent after announcing it agreed to be bought by Brazilian juice exporter Cutrale Group and investment bank Safra Group in a US$1.3 billion deal.

The deal came after Chiquita shareholders rejected Friday a separate plan to merge with Irish fruit rival Fyffes.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury dipped to 2.26 per cent from 2.27 per cent Friday, while the 30-year dropped to 3.03 per cent from 3.05 per cent. Yields and prices move inversely.