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US: Wall St edges lower as Fed minutes offer few clues on rates

[NEW YORK] US stocks edged lower on Wednesday as minutes from the most recent Federal Reserve meeting gave investors few new clues as to when US interest rates may rise.

The S&P 500 snapped a four-day run of gains and a two-day streak of record closing highs.

Minutes of the US central bank's Oct 28-29 meeting, where policymakers decided to finally end their bond-buying stimulus, indicated a debate among policymakers over the outlook for inflation and the economy. "The market doesn't really know how to react to this, whether it's a hawkish or dovish statement, but the reality is I think it's a truthful statement that we are in a very interesting spot with both headwinds and tailwinds facing this economy," said Burt White, chief investment officer at LPL Financial in Boston.

Following the release of the minutes, US short-term interest-rate futures traders were still betting on a first Fed rate hike by September next year.

Tech names were among the biggest drags on the market, with the Nasdaq underperforming both the Dow and S&P 500. Shares of Microsoft fell 1.1 per cent to US$48.22 and shares of Qualcomm eased 2.1 per cent to US$70.47. Qualcomm on Wednesday gave a more conservative five-year outlook than in the past.

Among the S&P 500's biggest positives, Target Corp rose 7.4 per cent to US$72.50 and Lowe's rose 6.4 per cent to US$62.26, both after results.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 2.09 points, or 0.01 per cent, to 17,685.73, the S&P 500 lost 3.08 points, or 0.15 per cent, to 2,048.72 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 26.73 points, or 0.57 per cent, to 4,675.71.

Before the Fed minutes, Goldman Sachs analysts said the US central bank, once it begins to tighten monetary policy, would raise short-term interest rates faster and to higher levels than current market expectations.

Oplink Communications shares jumped 13.8 per cent to US$24.18. It is being purchased by Koch Optics, a subsidiary of privately-help Koch Industries, for about US$445 million.

Among other big movers, shares of JetBlue Airways rose 4.1 per cent to US$13.25 after it said it will charge certain customers for their first checked bag.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,899 to 1,176, for a 1.61-to-1 ratio on the downside; on the Nasdaq, 1,937 issues fell and 765 advanced for a 2.53-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.

About 6.3 billion shares changed hands on US exchanges, compared with the 6.4 billion average for the month to date, according to data from BATS Global Markets.

After the bell, shares of Salesforce.com fell 4.1 per cent to US$58.55 as its revenue forecast missed analysts'expectations.

REUTERS