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Stock market ends mostly lower after release of Fed minutes

Stocks edge lower after record highs

The U.S. stock market edged mostly lower on Wednesday, easing back from its latest all-time highs.

The markets barely budged following the midafternoon release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's January meeting. The transcript showed that policymakers were less likely to raise interest rates in June than investors previously thought.

The decline follows two straight days of record closing highs for the Standard & Poor's 500 index.

"The market had really gathered steam around a June tightening date, the minutes seem to have walked that back a bit," said David Lafferty, chief market strategist at Natixis Global Asset Management.

The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 17.73 points, or 0.1%, to 18,029.85. The S&P 500 eased 0.7 point, or 0.03%, to 2,099.68. The index closed at an all-time high of 2,100.34 on Tuesday.

The Nasdaq composite rose 7.10 points, or 0.1%, to 4,906.36.

Major stock indexes opened lower early Wednesday. Energy stocks declined as the price of oil fell amid speculation that a recent rally in crude was excessive.

The price of benchmark U.S. crude, which had been rising last week, fell $1.39 to $52.14 a barrel Wednesday. The price of oil has jumped 16% since bottoming out at the end of January after a seven-month slump.

Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, fell $2 to $60.53 a barrel.

Investors hammered Fossil Group's shares after the retailer reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings report and outlook. The stock fell the most among companies in the S&P 500, shedding $15.63, or 15.7%, to $83.69.

Stocks continued to drift lower ahead of the release of the meetings from the Fed's January meeting.

But the declines eased after 2 p.m. Eastern time, when the minutes appeared to ease any concerns that the central bank would raise rates anytime soon.

The minutes revealed that officials were concerned about the impact on financial markets of dropping the word "patient" from their communications, when describing how long they were willing to wait before raising rates.

Officials noted that wage growth has remained weak even as the unemployment rate has declined. Inflation remains below the Fed's 2% target. The Fed's benchmark interest rate has been at a record low near zero since December 2008.

Government bonds rallied after the release of the Fed's minutes. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, fell to 2.08% from 2.14% late Tuesday.

All told, four of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 ended lower. Energy stocks slumped the most, declining 1.5%. Utilities notched the biggest gain at 2.4%.

The S&P 500 has bounced back after a weak start to the year, as a rebound in the price of oil has boosted energy stocks and returned the index to all-time highs. Strong reports on hiring and company earnings have also encouraged investors. The gains have come, even as a strengthening dollar has curbed overseas earnings for companies in the index.

Most companies in the S&P 500 index have now reported their results for the fourth quarter. Earnings are forecast to rise 7.6% after all the results are in, according to S&P Capital IQ. That compares with growth of 9.2% in the third quarter and a rate of 4.9% in the same period a year earlier.

In metals trading, gold fell $8.40, or 0.7%, to $1,199.70 an ounce. Silver fell 11 cents, or 0.7%, to $16.27 an ounce and copper rose 3 cents, or 1.3%, to $2.61 a pound.

The dollar gained against the euro, pushing the currency down to $1.14. The U.S. currency fell to 118.71 against the Japanese yen.

Investors also had their eye on developments in Greece, where the government is set to ask its European creditors to extend a 240 billion-euro international loan agreement — but without the deep spending cuts and income reductions from the country's austerity program.

Greece's bailout program expires after Feb. 28 and there are worries that a failure to extend it may force the country out of the euro, and potentially damage the global economy. Investors are optimistic, however, that Greece will reach a compromise with its creditors.

In other energy futures trading, the price of wholesale gasoline fell 2 cents to $1.574 a gallon. Heating oil slipped 2 cents to $1.959 a gallon. Natural gas rose 7 cents to $2.831 per 1,000 cubic feet.

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