NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Wall Street was as divided as the Federal Reserve on Wednesday as stocks struggled for direction after U.S. central bank's March minutes showed a lack consensus about about when to begin normalizing monetary policy.
Benchmark indexes finished in the green but not before the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 briefly dipped in the red after the minutes were released. By close, the S&P 500 had added 0.27%, the Dow climbed 0.09%, and the Nasdaq gained 0.83%.
"Several participants judged that the economic data and outlook were likely to warrant beginning normalization at the June meeting," the minutes from the Fed's March 17-18 meeting read. "Others anticipated that the effects of energy price declines and the dollar's appreciation ... [suggested] that conditions likely would not be appropriate to begin raising rates until later in the year."
The minutes made mention that some committee members were even considering the first rate hike in 2016 as a potential likelihood.
New York Fed President William Dudley earlier Wednesday said a rate hike in June is still on the table despite a series of poor data in recent weeks.
"I could imagine circumstances where a June rate hike is still in play. If the next jobs report is strong ... if second-quarter GDP look like it is bouncing quite sharply," said Dudley at a Reuters Newsmaker event.
Deals news was keeping markets active on Wednesday. Mylan (MYL spiked more than 14%, leading the Nasdaq, after it made an offer to buy Perrigo (PRGO for $205 a share. If accepted, the combined company would bring in $15 billion in yearly revenue. The health care sector moved higher on the news with the Health Care SPDR ETF (XLV up by 0.84%.
Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A agreed on Wednesday to buy BG Group (BRGYY, the U.K.'s third-largest natural gas producer, for $70 billion. The energy sector could see further consolidation as the significant fall in oil prices hurts profits.
Crude oil prices slipped as crude inventories increased by 10.9 million barrels in the week ended April 3, according to the Energy Information Administration. The increase was far higher than expectations that called for an increase of 3.4 million barrels. West Texas Intermediate crude fell 5.7% to $50.93 a barrel.
Prices were already under pressure after Saudi Arabia increased production to 10.3 million barrels a day in March, a 12-year high. Saudi oil minister, Ali al-Naimi, said he believes oil prices will rebound in the "near future" and the nation has made no signs of cutting production until then.
Alcoa (AA marked the unofficial kickoff to the first-quarter earnings season after the bell Wednesday. The aluminum producer was down more than 1% in after-market trading after narrowly beating earnings estimates but missing revenue expectations.
Investors are nervous a stronger U.S. dollar will pose a big challenge to S&P 500 companies, most of which generate a significant amount of sales from overseas. S&P 500 earnings are expected to slide 3.2% year on year and 11.4% quarter on quarter, according to Wells Fargo analysts. The bulk of profits lost will be in the energy sector due to declining oil prices.
"We reiterate, a poor earnings season should be expected as the strong dollar, weak oil prices and the effects of a sluggish global economy all have a deleterious impact," said Peter Cardillo, Rockwell Global Capital chief market economist. "We think the long-awaited correction may be at hand."