NEW YORK -- U.S. stocks were little changed Wednesday as investors analyzed minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting for signs on when the central bank might slow the pace of stimulus efforts.
Financial companies fell the most out of 10 S&P 500 groups as Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co. slumped more than 1.2 percent. Nabors Industries fell 6.3 percent after forecasting operating income below analysts' estimates. Family Dollar Stores added 7.1 percent as the retailer's earnings topped analyst estimates. Hewlett-Packard rose 1.8 percent after Citigroup advised investors to buy the stock.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index added less than 0.1 percent to 1,652.62, after rising and falling as much
as 0.3 percent during the day. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 8.68 points, or 0.1 percent, to 15,291.66. About 5.7 billion shares traded hands on U.S. exchanges, or 13 percent below the three-month average.
Minutes from the central bank's June 18-19 meeting, released Wednesday in Washington, showed that while several members judged that a reduction in asset purchases "would likely soon be warranted," many officials want to see more signs employment is picking up before they'll begin slowing the pace of $85 billion in monthly bond purchases.
Fed officials met before last week's Labor Department jobs report for the month of June exceeded expectations, with the economy adding 195,000 jobs and the unemployment rate unchanged at 7.6 percent.
The S&P 500 rallied 2.4 percent over the past four days as the June employment data eased concern over a scaling back of Fed stimulus. The index has recovered from a 4.8 percent drop between June 19 and 24, triggered when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank may reduce its bond-buying this year and end the program in 2014 as economic risks subside. The benchmark gauge is up 16 percent for the year, and within 1 percent of a record high set on May 21.
Data on Wednesday showed inventories at U.S. wholesalers unexpectedly declined in May by the most since September 2011 as sales surged, pointing to a pickup in orders and production.
In China, a report from the General Administration of Customs in Beijing showed that exports fell 3.1 percent in June from a year earlier. The median estimate in a Bloomberg survey had called for a 3.7 percent gain. Imports dropped 0.7 percent last month, compared with the median projection of a 6 percent increase. China's trade surplus with the U.S. slipped to $17.49 billion in June from $19.35 billion in May.
Investors have also been watching corporate earnings. Alcoa unofficially started the U.S. earnings season on July 8 with results that beat analysts' estimates. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Wells Fargo are among companies releasing results later this week.
Health-care, utility and technology shares rose the most among 10 S&P 500 groups, climbing at least 0.5 percent.
Hewlett-Packard increased 1.8 percent, the most in the Dow, to $25.93. Citigroup upgraded its recommendation for the computer maker to buy from sell and doubled its price estimate for the shares to $32.
A survey among chief information officers signaled a "positive inflection" for HP's services, Citigroup analysts said.