U.S. Stocks Get Modest Lift From Federal Reserve Comments

NEW YORK (AP) -

U.S. stocks closed barely higher Wednesday as big gains for utilities balanced out losses for retailers like Lowe’s, Target and Staples.

Stocks fell in morning trading as a recent slump in phone company and utility stocks continued. But the indexes reversed directions after noon as those stocks turned higher, as did banks and household goods makers. Investors saw the minutes from the Federal Reserve’s late July meeting and found no suggestion the Fed’s eager to raise interest rates.

Federal Reserve officials felt near-term risks to the U.S. economy have lessened as job growth improved in July.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 21.92 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,573.94. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 4.07 points, or 0.2 percent, to 2,182.22 after falling as much as 10 points early on. The Nasdaq composite inched up 1.55 points to 5,228.66. That left the market little changed from Tuesday and continued a persistent pattern of small moves for U.S. stocks.

Utility companies made the biggest gains, as low interest rates and bond yields make their big dividend payments more appealing. Dominion Resources jumped $1.97, or 2.6 percent, to $76.65 and Xcel Energy added 69 cents, or 1.7 percent, to $42.33.

Bond prices turned higher and the yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.55 percent from 1.58 percent. The dollar weakened, falling to 100.19 yen from 100.25 yen. The euro rose to $1.1290 from $1.1277. In recent days the Fed’s decision to leave rates unchanged has weakened the dollar, helping exporters.

Consumer companies slumped after weak results and forecasts for some major retailers. Home improvement retailer Lowe’s cut its annual profit forecast after it reported a profit that was smaller than analysts expected, and sales at older stores were weak. Those sales are considered an important measurement of retailer performance. Lowe’s stock fell $4.60, or 5.6 percent, to $76.88. Target also lowered its profit projections as it deals with stiff competition. Its stock lost $4.85, or 6.4 percent, to $70.63.

Office supply retailer Staples fell after disappointing analysts with its forecasts, which included further sales declines. Its stock fell 66 cents, or 7.1 percent, to $8.67. Rival Office Depot lost 26 cents, or 6.9 percent, to $3.52.

Urban Outfitters jumped after it disclosed solid second-quarter results. The stock gained $4.71, or 15.4 percent, to $36.05. It’s up 58 percent this year, wiping out a steep loss from 2015.

Oil prices climbed after the Energy Information Administration said U.S. crude oil inventories shrank by 2.5 million barrels last week and gas stockpiles decreased by 2.7 million barrels. The declines were larger than expected, which is generally good for oil prices. Benchmark U.S. crude added 21 cents to $46.79 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, inched up 62 cents, or 1.3 percent, to $49.85 a barrel in London.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline added 3 cents to $1.45 a gallon and heating oil rose 3 cents to $1.49 a gallon. Natural gas held steady a $2.62 per 1,000 cubic feet.

The price of gold fell $8.10 to $1,348.80 an ounce. Silver fell 23 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $19.65 an ounce. Copper gave up 2 cents to $2.15 a pound.

China’s cabinet approved an initiative that would give foreign investors more access to Chinese stocks by linking the stock exchanges in Hong Kong and the mainland city of Shenzhen.