Dow, S&P slip ahead of Fed; Micron lifts Nasdaq

January 8, 2014

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Dow and the S&P 500 declined modestly on Wednesday as investors awaited the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s most recent policy meeting, while Micron’s strong results helped boost the Nasdaq.

Minutes of the Fed’s December meeting, after which the U.S. central bank announced its decision to begin trimming its monthly bond purchases, will be released at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT). Market participants will scour them for details about the tapering, as well as look for signs of a clear Fed commitment to keeping rates low for a long time.

The Fed’s accommodative policies were the main driver of the S&P 500′s rally of nearly 30 percent in 2013. The program is expected to keep a floor under stock prices for as long as it continues.

“Investors are digesting the rally we’ve seen lately as we await more information,” said Paul Nolte, managing director at Dearborn Partners in Chicago. “Everyone wants to see what was behind the curtain of the last Fed meeting, to see what parameters were discussed with the taper or rates.”

U.S. private-sector employers added 238,000 jobs in December, more than expected and the best read since November 2012, while November 2013 numbers were revised higher, according to a report by ADP, a payrolls processor.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the ADP report had lifted estimates for the government’s nonfarm payrolls report, which will be released on Friday. Analysts expect 196,000 jobs were added in December, but Zandi said that based on the ADP report, the payrolls data would show 230,000 jobs were created.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 89.52 points, or 0.54 percent, at 16,441.42. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.83 points, or 0.10 percent, at 1,836.05. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 10.72 points, or 0.26 percent, at 4,163.90.

Microsoft is closer to naming a new chief executive officer, according to a source familiar with the board’s thinking, but it lost a front-runner candidate on Tuesday when Ford’s CEO Alan Mulally said he would not be going to the software giant.

Ford’s stock rose 1.7 percent to $15.64. Microsoft fell 1.6 percent to $35.84, pressuring the Dow.

Shares of JC Penney Co Inc slid 8.3 percent to $7.51 after the department store chain said on Wednesday that it was “pleased” with its holiday season sales without giving specific results. That prompted many on Wall Street to say the retailer’s sales may have declined last month.

On the upside, both Apollo Education Group Inc and Micron Technology soared a day after reporting higher-than-expected quarterly profits.

Apollo shares surged 13 percent to $30.45. Micron’s stock shot up 9.5 percent to $23.80. They were the top two percentage gainers in the Nasdaq 100 <.NDX>.

The pharmaceutical sector continued to be fertile ground for mergers and acquisitions. Forest Laboratories agreed to buy privately held specialty pharmaceutical company Aptalis Holdings Inc for about $2.9 billion. Forest Labs shares jumped 16.7 percent to $68.58, ranking as the S&P 500′s biggest gainer.

NuPathe Inc leaped 36.8 percent to $4.42 after the company said it received a buyout offer from Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd for $114 million plus milestone payments related to NuPathe’s migraine treatment.

(Editing by Jan Paschal)

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