Stocks Steady Ahead of Fed Statement

Stocks Steady Ahead of Fed Statement

NEW YORK (AP) -- The U.S. market is quiet for a third day in a row Wednesday afternoon following a raft of generally positive economic reports. Investors are looking forward to the Federal Reserve's comments on the state of the economy later in the day. Oil prices are rising on reports that major energy-producing nations will hold a new round of talks about curbing oil production.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average picked up two points to 16,275 as of 12:33 p.m. Eastern time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose one point to 2,016. The Nasdaq composite index added 13 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,741.

FED TIME: Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting ends Wednesday. The central bank is expected to keep rates steady amid uncertainty about the global economy and financial markets, but the Fed's statement and Chair Janet Yellen's press conference after the meeting could shed more light on the Fed's interest rate plans. The Fed raised interest rates in December and has said it wants to gradually lift them higher.

ENERGY: Oil prices rose after the announcement that major oil producing countries will meet in Qatar in April to hold more talks about a freeze in oil output levels. A deal — which is far from a sure thing — could help relieve a global glut that has depressed oil prices.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose $1.64, or 4.5 percent, to $37.98 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the benchmark for international oils, gained $1.57, or 4.1 percent, to $40.31 a barrel in London. The price of heating oil also jumped.

Energy companies were the biggest gainers in afternoon trading. Williams Cos. rose 76 cents, or 4.7 percent, to $16.91. Kinder Morgan added 76 cents, or 4.2 percent, to $18.83 and Devon Energy gained 90 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $24.99.

STOCKS JUMBLED: It's been a mixed week on the market, with the Dow up slightly and the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both a bit lower. The market has risen for each of the last four weeks on mounting evidence that the U.S. economy remains in good shape overall despite the shaky state of other major economies. Oil prices have also surged over that period, bringing some relief to energy and financial stocks.

OUT OF POWER: Peabody Energy, the largest coal mining company in the U.S., is plunging after it said it is delaying an interest payment and may have to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The stock sank $1.80, or 45 percent, to $2.21.

SAW IT COMING: Software maker Oracle is rising after it reported mixed quarterly results and said it will buy back $10 billion in company stock. It picked up $1.71, or 4.4 percent, to $40.45. Oracle helped tech stocksmoved higher. Other companies that gained ground included Apple, which rose 81 cents to $105.39, and Microsoft, which picked up 41 cents to $54.01.

INFLATION PUMPED UP: The Labor Department said core inflation, or inflation that leaves out energy and food prices, continued to rise. It's up 2.3 percent over the last year, the largest gain in almost four years. Overall inflation slipped in February because of lower gas prices and it's up just 1 percent in the last year. The Fed has been looking closely at inflation as it considers raising interest rates. Though one of the Fed's main goals is to prevent runaway inflation, it wants to see inflation rise more than it has in recent years to be sure the economy is healthy enough to handle higher rates.

Separate reports showed construction of new homes continued to grow in February, but applications were weak again, a sign of future trouble. Meanwhile U.S. factories made more machinery, appliances and computer in February. It's the second straight monthly increase and a sign manufacturing is improving.

LAGGARDS: Utility stocks slipped. Consolidated Edison was down 70 cents at $73.20 and Sempra Energy fell 76 cents to $99.44. Consumer companies including Coca-Cola fell 50 cents to $44.74 and Dr Pepper Snapple Group declined 79 cents to $89.90.

OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX gained 0.4 percent and Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.5 percent. France's CAC 40 fell 0.2 percent. Asian stocks were also mixed, as Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.8 percent and South Korea's Kospi added 0.3 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 0.2 percent to while the Shanghai Composite index rose 0.2 percent.

BONDS, CURRENCIES: Bond prices fell and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 1.99 percent from 1.97 percent. The euro declined to $1.1081 from $1.1107 late Tuesday. The dollar rose to 113.68 yen from 113.10 yen.

(KA)