NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Federal Reserve has telegraphed that it is data-dependent and won't rush into a rate hike again and again.
But Wall Street wanted more transparency from Fed Chair Janet Yellen and her crew on Wednesday after the minutes from the Fed's April meeting failed to give a clear sense of when a hike could occur.
The S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average hit intraday records earlier in the afternoon before a brief rally deflated and stocks fell back into the red. The S&P 500 fell 0.1%, the Dow slid 0.14%, and the Nasdaq gained 0.03%.
Investors are "getting confused by what they believe the consensus of the Fed is," said Kevin Mahn, chief investment officer of Hennion & Walsh Asset Management, in a call. "The Fed ... [is] putting the doubt back in that it may not happen in June. The question then becomes, does it happen in September? If second-quarter GDP disappoints, does it happen in 2015 at all?"
The minutes noted that many on the Fed board saw a June rate hike as unlikely, with only a few members supporting an increase so soon.
"Many participants ... thought it unlikely that the data available in June would provide sufficient confirmation that the conditions for raising the target range for the federal funds rate had been satisfied, although they generally did not rule out this possibility," according to the minutes from the April 29 meeting.
Members also said first-quarter weakness was transitory, citing a recent trend of slow starts to the year, alongside winter winter and the West Coast port slowdown. The Fed said it expects the economy to return to growth given low rates, high confidence and rising incomes.
Investors have been anxious for further details as to when an initial rate hike could occur after years of crises-level, near-zero rates, as well as the pace at which further hikes could take place thereafter.
The Department of Justice settled with six major banks over criminal charges related to manipulation of currency markets. Citigroup, UBS (UBS), Barclays (BCS), JPMorgan and RBS (RBS) pleaded guilty and will pay a total $5.6 billion in fines. Bank of America (BAC) was fined $205 million.
Crude oil spiked after weekly inventories declined more than expected. The Energy Information Administration reported a fall of 2.7 million barrels in crude supplies for the week ended May 15. Analysts had expected a drop of 2 million barrels. West Texas Intermediate was up 1.3% to $58.73 a barrel.
Higher oil prices were pulling the airline sector lower. Southwest Airlines (LUV), American Airlines (AAL), JetBlue (JBLU), United (UAL) and Delta (DAL) were all trading in the red on Wednesday. Industry watchers were also concerned carrier growth would outpace travel demand.
Lowe's (LOW) tumbled 4.6% after missing profit estimates. The home-improvement retailer earned 70 cents a share in its recent quarter, below forecasts of 74 cents, though revenue did increase 5.4% and beat expectations.
Target (TGT) shares were on watch after the retailer beat bottom-line forecasts, though full-year earnings guidance came in weaker than expected. The company expects 2015 profit between $4.50 and $4.56 a share, compared to consensus of $4.56.
Staples (SPLS) fell nearly 2% after reporting in-line earnings and forecasting a decrease in sales in its second quarter. The office supplies chain reported sales at North American stores and online purchases fell 10%.
Etsy (ETSY) tumbled 18% after reporting results for the first quarter since its market debut. The online craft marketplace reported a loss of 84 cents a share, while revenue jumped 44.4% to $58.5 million. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, Etsy had more than 1.4 million active sellers and 20.8 million active buyers.
Yahoo! (YHOO) bounced back from big losses suffered in the final minutes of trading on Tuesday. Yahoo! had tumbled nearly 6% on reports it could face regulatory challenges in its planned spinoff of its ownership stake in Alibaba (BABA). Yahoo! shares moved up 4.2% on Wednesday.
Stocks ended mixed on Tuesday, though the Dow managed to inch to a new record, as crude oil sold off, earnings from retailers Wal-Mart (WMT) and Home Depot (HD) came in mixed, and the housing market posted signs of a recovery.