Stocks end little changed after Fed minutes


NEW YORK — The stock market turned quiet Wednesday and just managed to notch a fifth straight day of gains.

Even the release of minutes from the latest meeting of the Federal Reserve didn’t jolt stocks.

Two major U.S. stock indexes were barely changed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose a fraction of a point to 1,652.62. The Dow Jones industrial average eased 8.68 points, or 0.1 percent, to 15,291.66.

Every move the Fed has made in recent months has been analyzed. Wednesday’s minutes from the June policy meeting were no exception.

But the minutes offered no surprises. The report showed many Fed members want to see further job gains before cutting back on the central bank’s stimulus measures. It also showed some divisions among officials over when the Fed should slow that stimulus.

The Fed has been buying $85 billion worth of bonds each month. That has helped keep interest rates at historic lows and spurred borrowing and investing.

The small gain in the S&P 500 Wednesday kept alive its winning streak. The index has now risen five days, its best streak in two months. Investors have become more confident about the economy after the strong June jobs report. The index is up 2.9 percent in July after falling 1.5 percent in June, its first monthly decline since October.

In another sign of confidence, small-company stocks continued their surge. The Russell 2000, which represents 2,000 publicly traded companies with small market valuations, rose 2.4 points, or 0.2 percent, to a record 1,020.42.

The Nasdaq, meanwhile, is at its highest level since October 2000. The Nasdaq gained 16.5 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,520.76. Despite its rise, the index would still have to rise 43 percent to match its all-time high of 5,048 reached March 10, 2000, the peak of the dot-com bubble.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Bernanke said the economy still needs support from the Fed’s low-rate policies. Speaking in Cambridge, Mass., to the National Bureau of Economic Research, Bernanke noted that unemployment remains high and that higher taxes and federal spending cuts are weighing on growth.

It was Bernanke’s latest effort to stress to investors that even after the Fed has begun to slow bond purchases, it will continue to stimulate the economy.

Stock index futures rose as Bernanke spoke. The S&P index futures were up eight points, or 0.5 percent, at 1,656 as of 5:40 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

Investors are watching earnings results for the second quarter, which ended 10 days ago. Analysts expect earnings growth to average 2.8 percent for companies in the S&P 500, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

The expected growth isn’t spectacular and that makes it more likely that companies could beat analysts’ estimates, said Eric Wiegand, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.68 percent from 2.64 percent late Tuesday. As recently as early May, the yield was 1.63 percent.

The price of crude oil jumped almost 3 percent to the highest level in 16 months after the U.S. government reported another steep decline in the nation’s supplies. Oil rose $2.99 to $105.71 a barrel in New York.

The price of gold rose $1.50, or 0.1 percent, to $1,247.40 an ounce.