February 22, 2017 / 8:00 PM / 5 months ago

US STOCKS-S&P 500 holds losses after Fed minutes; Dow hits record high

4 Min Read

* Many Fed policymakers said rate hike may come 'fairly soon'

* Dow index buoyed by DuPont after merger news

* Toll Brothers surges after quarterly results

* Dow up 0.11 pct, S&P down 0.11 pct, Nasdaq down 0.1 pct (Updates to late afternoon)

By Lewis Krauskopf

Feb 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were modestly weaker on Wednesday after the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting showed many of the central bank's policymakers said it may be appropriate to raise interest rates again "fairly soon."

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq were in negative territory, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average held slight gains.

The major U.S. indexes are trading around record highs, driven up since President Donald Trump's Nov 8 election by the promise of lower taxes, reduced regulations and higher infrastructure spending.

The minutes of the Fed's Jan. 31-Feb. 1 discussion, at which the U.S. central bank voted to keep rates unchanged, also showed the depth of uncertainty at the central bank over the lack of clarity on the new Trump administration's economic program.

Ahead of the release of the minutes, traders were expecting a 27-percent chance of a rate hike at the Fed's March meeting, and a 53-percent chance in May, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Separately on Wednesday, Fed Governor Jerome Powell said it will be appropriate for the Fed to raise interest rates "perhaps relatively soon." Chair Janet Yellen said last week that the Fed will likely need to raise interest rates at an upcoming meeting.

Recent comments by Yellen and other Fed officials appear to suggest that the Fed could raise interest rates at its March meeting, but the "market is not there", said Walter Todd, chief investment officer with Greenwood Capital in Greenwood, South Carolina.

"I don’t see anything in the minutes that changed that narrative," Todd said. The Fed "is trying to give itself maximum flexibility to move and the market is kind of stubbornly saying, 'You're not going in March.'"

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 22.86 points, or 0.11 percent, to 20,765.86, the S&P 500 lost 2.54 points, or 0.11 percent, to 2,362.84 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 6.03 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,859.92.

The Dow, which set a new intraday record high, was buoyed by a 3.7-percent gain in DuPont shares. The company is set to win antitrust approval from European Union regulators for its $130 billion merger with Dow Chemical, sources told Reuters. Dow Chemical's shares rose 4.1 percent.

A solid corporate earnings season has also encouraged investors. Profits for S&P 500 companies are on track to rise 7.6 percent in the fourth quarter, the best quarterly growth since the third quarter of 2014, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Toll Brothers shares rose 6.6 percent after the luxury homebuilder reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue.

Shares of Garmin surged 6 percent and were the top percentage gainers on the S&P after the GPS-devices maker posted its fifth-straight quarterly profit and sales beat.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.46-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.49-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted 51 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 128 new highs and 27 new lows. (additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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