Stocks mixed as investors wait on the Fed

KEN SWEET AP Markets Writer Published:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks were mixed in midday trading Wednesday as investors held back ahead of the latest news from the Federal Reserve. The Fed releases minutes later in the afternoon from its December policy meeting, where central bank officials voted to start reducing the Fed's extraordinary support for the U.S. economy.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average lost 56 points, or 0.3 percent, to 16,473 as of noon Eastern. The Dow was dragged lower by Proctor & Gamble and McDonald's, both down more than 1 percent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose a point to 1,838 and the Nasdaq composite index rose 17 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,170.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS: The big theme of the week is job news. A private survey showed U.S. businesses added the most jobs in a year in December, powered by a big gain in construction work. Payroll processor ADP said Wednesday that companies added 238,000 jobs in December, better than the 200,000 economists predicted. The ADP data sets the stage for Friday's government jobs report. Investors expect the U.S. economy created 190,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate remained steady at 7 percent.

FED MINUTES: Later this afternoon, investors will get the minutes from the Federal Reserve's mid-December meeting. That's when Fed officials voted to start pulling back on the bank's huge bond-buying program, which came as a surprise to many investors. Wall Street will be looking for the reasons why the Fed believed it was time to start reducing stimulus.

EARNINGS SEASON ARRIVES: Big publicly traded companies will start reporting their quarterly financial results Thursday. Dow member Chevron reports after the closing bell Thursday as well as former Dow member Alcoa. Investors are going to be looking to see if the recent improvement in the U.S. economy has translated into higher earnings for corporate America.

'UPBEAT MESSAGE:' "Investors are going to be looking for a pretty upbeat message from corporate America," said Alec Young, global equity strategist with S&P Capital IQ. The forecasts companies give about their earnings this year will be the most important pieces of information for the market over the next few weeks, he said.

FORD GAINS: Ford rose 24 cents, or 1.5 percent, to $15.62 after CEO Alan Mulally said he would not leave to run Microsoft. Mulally was considered a top candidate for the position, having led the turnaround for Ford turning the financial crisis.

BIG PHARMACEUTICAL DEAL: Forest Labs was up $9.24, or 16 percent, to $67.99 after the company said it would buy Aptalis, which specializes in treatments for gastrointestinal problems and cystic fibrosis, for $2.9 billion in cash.

THERE'S A SALE AT PENNEY'S: J.C. Penney dropped 63 cents, or 7 percent, to $7.56. The company issued a brief statement saying it was "pleased with its performance for the holiday period," but gave no specific sales data. The statement appeared to raise more questions for investors about the struggling retailer than it answered, however.