Stocks mixed as investors seek Fed clarity

By Joshua Freed

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Sept. 20 2013 11:03 a.m. MDT

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's news conference is on a television screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Stocks were mixed on Friday as investors sought more clarity on what the Federal Reserve will do next.

The Fed surprised investors on Wednesday when it kept its stimulus going at $85 billion a month, rather than trimming it as most expected.

Investors may get new clues on Friday after several Fed officials speak. St. Louis Fed president James Bullard told Bloomberg that it's possible the Fed will reduce its bond-buying at its next meeting in October, depending on what economic data show. The presidents of Federal Reserve branches in Minneapolis and Kansas City, Mo., are also scheduled to speak on Friday.

About 45 minutes after trading began, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 31 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,606. The Standard & Poor's 500 index edged down two points to 1,720. The Nasdaq composite rose three points to 3,793.

Four out of 10 industry groups in the S&P 500 rose, led by health care and technology stocks. Utilities, industrial companies, and makers of consumer goods saw the biggest declines.

For utilities, it was a reversal from earlier this week. When the Fed decided to keep encouraging low interest rates, utilities got a boost because investors liked that they tend to pay richer dividends. That's appealing when bond prices rise and their yields fall, as they did after the Fed decision.

Darden, the struggling parent of Olive Garden and Red Lobster, fell $1.81, or 3.7 percent, to $47.48 after posting a much lower quarterly profit and saying its president and chief operating officer will retire. Sales fell at its two flagship restaurant chains despite efforts to renew menus and advertising.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber rose 60 cents, or 2.7 percent, to $22.83 as it reinstated a dividend after a hiatus of more than a decade. It also said it would buy back up to $100 million of its shares.

Now that the Fed has spoken, investors are beginning to focus on the political fight between the White House and Congress over the approaching debt ceiling. It must be raised by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown. The uncertainty about that situation is rapidly becoming the No. 1 concern for investors, analysts said.

Most overseas markets also moved slightly lower, with small declines in the German DAX ahead of Sunday's election. Britain's FTSE fell slightly, and the CAC-40 in France had a small gain.

Markets in Hong Kong, mainland China, Taiwan, and South Korea were closed. Japan's Nikkei 225 index gave up early gains to close 0.2 percent lower.

Oil prices fell 25 cents to $105.61 per barrel.

The dollar rose slightly to 1.35 euros and 99.49 Japanese yen.

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