Stocks Wobble Early Wednesday

NEW YORK (AP) --- U.S. stocks are mixed Wednesday morning as investors wait for news on interest rates from the Federal Reserve. The Fed is widely expected to raise rates, and investors will be watching closely for clues about how many more increases the central bank may make this year and also for the Fed's assessment of how the economy is doing.

Cereal maker General Mills is sinking after it reported rising expenses and cut its profit forecast. Facebook, which is facing scrutiny over its handling of user data, continues to pull technology companies downward. Energy companies are rising along with the price of oil and smaller, more U.S.-focused companies are climbing.

KEEPING SCORE: The S&P 500 index was little changed at 2,718 as of 10:11 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 38 points, or 0.2 percent, to 24,688. The Nasdaq composite rose 14 points, or 0.2 percent, to 7,378. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 7 points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,577. More stocks rose than fell on the New York Stock Exchange.

FED WATCH: Federal Reserve policymakers have begun a two-day policy meeting that is expected to result in the first of three interest rate hikes expected this year. One of the key debates on Wall Street is whether the Fed will wind up increasing rates four times instead of three. Investors will be watching for Powell's comments at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

Bond prices were stable. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was unchanged after it jumped to 2.90 percent Tuesday.

FACEBOOK DEFACED: Facebook slipped another $3.19, or 1.9 percent, to $164.96 as authorities in Britain and the U.S. launched investigations into alleged improper handling of user data. Facebook has fallen 11 percent this week following reports that a data mining firm working for President Donald Trump's campaign took data from the accounts of 50 million Facebook users without their permission. The stock is down 15 percent from the all-time high it set Feb. 1.

Other social media companies regained a portion of their recent losses. Twitter rose $1.03, or 3.3 percent, to $32.39 and Snap gained 18 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $16.18. Twitter fell 11 percent in the last two days. Snap dropped 10 percent in a four-day losing streak that began last week, when pop star Rihanna called on her fans to delete the Snapchat app after an ad for game that made jokes about her assault in 2009 by her then-boyfriend Chris Brown. Snap apologized for the ad.

SPILLED MILK: General Mills, the maker of Cheerios cereal, Yoplait yogurt and other packaged foods, plunged after its third-quarter results were hurt by rising freight and commodity costs. The company also cut its annual profit outlook. The stock dropped $4.83, or 9.7 percent, to $45.10.

DEAL OR NO DEAL? Customer-management software developer Salesforce agreed to buy software company MuleSoft for $44.89 a share, or $5.9 billion. MuleSoft had jumped 27 percent Tuesday on reports it was close to a deal and gained another $2.19, or 5.2 percent, to $44.20 Wednesday. Salesforce.com lost $4.43, or 3.5 percent, to $120.69.

Department store operator Nordstrom slipped $1.75, or 3.5 percent, to $47.60 after the company said it ended buyout talks with top executives and family members of the company's founder, saying it couldn't get the group to raise its price. Earlier this month it rejected an offer of $50 a share.

Qualcomm slipped 52 cents to $58.01 and NXP Semiconductors lost $1.04 to $122.06 after Bloomberg News reported that regulators in China aren't willing to approve Qualcomm's purchase of NXP until Qualcomm agrees to more protections for local companies.

GROUNDED: Airlines skidded after Southwest said its revenue is suffering as it cuts fares to compete with other companies. Southwest also said the retirement of some Boeing 737-300 planes and the timing of spring break holidays is affecting its business.

Southwest dropped $3.22, or 5.3 percent, to $57.47 and American Airlines fell $1.48, or 2.7 percent, to $43.84. Delta slid $1.10, or 1.9 percent, to $55.40.

COMMODITIES: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 83 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $64.37 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added $1.07, or 1.6 percent, to $68.49 a barrel in London.

Metals prices also increased. Gold rose 0.8 percent, to $1,322.50 an ounce and silver jumped 27 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $16.45 an ounce.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 106.19 yen from 106.46 yen. The euro rose to $1.2294 from $1.2253.

OVERSEAS: Germany's DAX lost 0.4 percent and the CAC 40 in France declined 0.5 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.5 percent.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index erased earlier gains to fall 0.4 percent and South Korea's Kospi finished little changed. Markets in Japan were closed for a holiday.

(BE)