Updated from 4:08 p.m. EST
Stocks closed little changed Tuesday, as apprehension ahead of a
meeting was offset by sharply lower oil prices.
Dow Jones Industrial Average
lost 4.94 points, or 0.05%, to 10,386.37. The
shed 0.81, or 0.07%, to 1164.08, having snapped a nine-session winning streak on Monday, while the
added 4.08 points, 0.20%, to 2043.33, its highest close since June 30.
About 1.45 billion shares traded on the
New York Stock Exchange
, where advancing shares outpaced declining ones by a 9-to-8 margin. A little more than 1.66 billion shares changed hands on the Nasdaq, with advancers and decliners about even.
The 10-year Treasury note rose 1/32 to yield 4.21%, while the dollar edged up from its recent lows against the yen and euro.
Energy prices continued their correction, with December crude futures closing $1.72 lower at $47.37, the lowest since Sept. 22. A report on U.S. inventories tomorrow is expected to show another rise in crude stocks, while cold weather in the Northeast is keeping concerns high about the price of heating oil.
"We've just finished up the best two weeks we've had all year and we're now a bit overbought here, so we're looking for some minor backing and filling in the next couple of days," said John Hughes, an equity strategist with Shields & Co.
Hughes pointed to a long list of good news revitalizing the equity market, including a favorable conclusion of the election for stocks, a healthy employment number last Friday, and a substantial decline in crude oil prices. He said an upcoming interest rate hike has already been factored in, as has an assault on the Iraqi city of Fallujah and Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat's health complications.
"Everything's clicking now, and there's a sense that things are moving forward again," Hughes said. "In the longer term, we're looking for a rally here for the fourth quarter and into the new year."
Fed policymakers are expected to raise the fed funds target by a quarter point to 2% when they meet Wednesday in Washington. Friday's employment report, which showed 337,000 new jobs on the books, erased most doubt among investors that the Fed would hold off on a second rate hike when it meets again in December. At 2%, fed funds will stand at its highest level since November 2001.
Earnings season continued Tuesday with a key after-the-bell report from
, which matched estimates for earnings of 21 cents a share on sales of sales of $6 billion, and an ugly quarterly update from
Marsh & McLennan
Marsh said third-quarter earnings fell 94% from a year ago, gutted by charges that included a $232 million reserve to cover the legal bill for its involvement in the insurance bid-rigging scandal. Marsh, which also confirmed plans to cut 3,000 workers, earned $21 million, or 4 cents a share, in the latest quarter compared with $357 million, or 65 cents a share, a year ago.
Backing out one-time items that come to 55 cents a share, Marsh earned about 59 cents a share in the latest quarter on revenue that rose 5% from a year ago to $3 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had been forecasting earnings of 67 cents a share on revenue of $3.03 billion. The shares fell 56 cents, or 2.05%, to $26.80.
Another stock to watch was
, which said after the bell Monday that it is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Justice Department. The probe, which is separate from an inquiry by the
Securities and Exchange Commission
, concerns the events leading up to the Sept. 30 withdrawal of Vioxx from the market. Merck lost 57 cents, or 2.2%, to $26. Rival
fell 25 cents, or 0.9%, to $27.99.
was lower after disclosing that Chairman Tom Siebel plans to sell up to 10 million shares over an 18-month period starting around February. Siebel, who is carrying out the sales for diversification purposes, will continue to own about 10% of the company's stock, or about 45 million shares and options. The stock ended unchanged at $9.44.
said fiscal fourth-quarter homebuilding revenue rose 62% from a year ago to $1.4 billion, the highest quarter in the company's history. The end-of-quarter backlog stood at $4.4 billion, up 68% from a year ago and also a record level for Toll. The shares gained $1.47, or 3%, to $50.63.
Abercrombie & Fitch
offered cautious guidance for its fourth quarter and a higher third-quarter profit. Including items, the retailer reported net income of $40.1 million, or 42 cents a share, vs. $50.5 million, or 51 cents a share, a year ago. The company took a 22-cents-a-share charge for a legal settlement. Analysts expected 60 cents a share. Shares fell 16 cents, or 0.4%, to $42.
was lower after saying the SEC has issued so-called Wells notices to ex-CEO Rich McGinn, former head of Saudi Arabian operations John Heindel, and a former employee whose identity wasn't disclosed. The papers, which relate to bribery allegations, signify the agency's intent to file civil charges and give the recipient a chance to present his or her side of the case. Lucent added 2 cents to $3.67.