U.S. Stocks End Nearly Unchanged Ahead of Fed Meeting

NEW YORK (AP) -

U.S. stocks barely budged Monday, finishing mixed as lower oil prices pulled energy companies down while hotels and travel-related companies rose.

Trading was quiet Monday ahead of the Federal Reserve’s meeting later this week, which is expected to shed some light on the possibility of a future increase in benchmark interest rates.

U.S. stocks missed out on a global rally that lifted stocks in Europe and Asia. The Standard & Poor’s 500 fell for just the second time this month.

The& Dow& Jones industrial average rose 15.82 points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,229.13. The S&P 500 lost 2.55 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,019.64. The Nasdaq composite index gained 1.81 points to 4,750.28.

Starwood Hotels jumped after a consortium led by China’s Anbang Insurance Group offered to buy the hotel chain for $14 billion. Last year Marriott International agreed to buy Starwood for $12.2 billion. Starwood said it will examine the new offer and its stock gained $5.51, or 7.8 percent, to $75.93. Marriott stock rose $2.04, or 3 percent, to $70.93. It will get a $400 million payment if Starwood backs out of their agreement.

Energy and materials stocks fell with the prices of oil, gas, and precious metals.

The price of oil tumbled after Iran’s oil minister dismissed the idea of a freeze in production over the weekend. U.S. benchmark crude fell $1.32, or 3.4 percent, to close at $37.18 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the global benchmark, lost 86 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $39.53 a barrel in London. Southwestern Energy lost 54 cents, or 6.7 percent, to $7.46 and Chesapeake Energy gave up 32 cents, or 6.8 percent, to $4.38.

The Federal Reserve will meet Tuesday and Wednesday. Investors don’t expect the Fed to raise interest rates, but they will look closely at its comments on the state of the U.S. and global economies to get clues about possible moves in the future. In December the Fed raised interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, but it left them unchanged in January.

Stocks in Europe rose after the eurozone had its biggest monthly increase in industrial production since 2009. Germany’s DAX rose 1.6 percent. France’s CAC 40 added 0.3 percent while Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.6 percent.

Chinese stocks rose after the chief of the China Securities Regulatory Commission told a press conference over the weekend it’s too early to talk of winding back official support measures for the markets, according to the official Xinhua news agency. That suggests the government will continue to support Chinese equities.

Japan reported a jump in private sector machinery orders, a sign that capital spending could improve this year. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index rose 1.7 percent and South Korea’s Kospi was little changed. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 1.2 percent and the Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China gained 1.8 percent.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.42 a gallon and heating oil lost 2 cents to $1.20 a gallon. Natural gas fell less than a penny to close at $1.82 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In metals trading, the price of gold fell $14.30, or 1.1 percent, to $1,245.10 an ounce. Silver fell 8.4 cents to $15.52 an ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.24 a pound.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 1.96 percent from 1.98 percent. The euro declined to $1.1097 from $1.1157 late Friday. The dollar edged up to 113.80 yen from 113.70 yen.