Wall St falls on Fed minutes

United States stocks close lower as investors struggle to find direction from Federal Reserve minutes.

United States stocks ended a volatile session with broad losses after the minutes to the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting provided little clarity on when the central bank might start paring back on stimulus measures

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 105.44 points, or 0.7%, to 14897.55 points. Soon after the release of the minutes, the Dow fell as much as 122 points, then bounced sharply to be up as much as 17 points, before selling off again.

The decline marked the sixth-straight loss for the blue-chip index, the longest losing streak since July 2012.

The S&P 500 index lost 9.55 points, or 0.6%, to 1642.80 points.

The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 13.80, or 0.4%, to 3599.79 points.

All 10 S&P 500 sectors declined, led by the utilities and consumer discretionary sectors.

The Fed minutes showed that "few" officials favoured reducing its bond-purchase programs soon, while a "few" urged more caution. But the minutes also showed that a number of Fed members were "somewhat less confident" about a near-term pickup in economic growth than they had been in June.

If anything, the minutes underscored that the Fed's decision on any pullback will depend in large part on how the economy is holding up—putting even more emphasis on coming data, including the monthly jobs report due Sept. 6.

"It's a mixed and muddled message," Cuttone & Co senior vice president Keith Bliss said.

"The problem we're having is that the situation has gotten so complicated, [the Fed] is having a tough time conveying a simple-to-understand message."

Uncertainty over the Fed's intentions has weighed on stock markets in the US and abroad and pushed up Treasury yields over the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, Treasury bonds sold off immediately after the minutes were released, pushing benchmark yields as high as 2.884% shortly after the minutes were released, near the two-year peak of 2.899% set on Monday. Yields settled at 2.852%, up from 2.816% on Tuesday. The dollar gained ground against both the euro and the yen.

"There was nothing in the minutes that deviates from the current belief that the Fed would start tapering bond buying next month," Guggenheim Securities LLC managing director US government bond trading Jason Rogan said, noting that the minutes showed broad support for Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's timeline of tapering bond buying with an end date of mid-2014.

Northern Trust chief investment strategist Jim McDonald said the late bounce in stocks was tied to the fact that the Fed didn't appear as predisposed to reducing stimulus as investors feared.

"There was no smoking gun in the minutes that indicates they are itching to taper," Mr McDonald said. That said, he expects the Fed to trim bond purchases by late October.

Earlier Wednesday, existing home sales for July rose 6.5% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 5.39 million homes, the highest level since late 2009, beating expectations of a rise to 5.15 million homes.

October crude-oil futures settled down 1.2% to $103.85 a barrel, while August gold futures slipped 0.2% to $1,370.60 an ounce.

European markets fell as investors awaited the Fed minutes, with the Stoxx Europe 600 losing 0.5% to the lowest level since July 31.

Asian markets were mixed. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average seesawed between gains and losses before closing up 0.2%. China's Shanghai Composite inched up less than 0.1%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.7%.

In corporate news, Target fell 3.61% after the discount retailer reported fiscal second-quarter earnings that topped analyst estimates, but provided a downbeat outlook for the current quarter.

Lowe's rallied 3.92% after the home-improvement retailer reported better-than-expected fiscal second-quarter earnings and revenue, and raised its full-year outlook, amid an improving housing market.

Goldman Sachs lost 1.54% as the trading firm faces potential losses after flooding the US stock-options market with erroneous trades on Tuesday.