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28.04.2015 20:18

U.S. stocks closed

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose as Merck & Co.'s boosted profit outlook and a dividend increase from IBM Corp. helped lift equities while the Federal Reserve began its two-day meeting.

The S&P 500 Index rose 0.3 percent to 2,114.90 at 4 p.m. in New York. The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 0.1 percent, while the Russell 2000 Index advanced 0.5 percent.

"Earnings is driving most everything that's going on right now," said Tom Wirth, senior investment officer for Chemung Canal Trust Co., which manages $1.9 billion in Elmira, New York. "When I look at the stocks that are doing well and those that aren't doing so well, it's mostly earnings driven here."

In the midst of the corporate earnings season, investors are also awaiting the outcome of the Fed's meeting, which begins today, for more clues on the timing of interest rate increases.

The Fed won't hike rates until its September meeting, according to 73 percent of 59 economists in a survey, up from 37 percent in the March survey, when the majority said the first increase would likely come in June or July.

Most Fed policy makers expect to raise the benchmark interest rate by the end of 2015. With economic data missing estimates this month by the most in more than six years, some officials have said they are wary of lifting rates too soon.

The Fed last month dropped an assurance that it will be "patient" in raising rates. Instead, officials said they want to see further labor-market gains and be "reasonably confident" inflation will move back up toward their 2 percent goal before tightening policy.

The Conference Board's index of consumer confidence unexpectedly decreased to 95.2 in April from 101.4 a month earlier, the New York-based private research group said Tuesday. The median forecast of 77 economists called for the gauge to climb to 102.2 after a previously reported 101.3 a month earlier.

Data tomorrow may show U.S. economic growth slowed to a 1 percent pace in the first quarter, from 2.2 percent in the previous three months.

Selling in U.S. equities Tuesday briefly accelerated, sending the S&P 500 as much as 0.7 percent lower, after Al Arabiya reported that Iranian forces seized a U.S. cargo vessel, without saying where it obtained the information.

Pfizer, Ford and Kraft Foods Group Inc. are among 40 S&P 500 companies releasing results today. Of index members that have already reported this season, about three quarters beat profit projections and about half topped sales estimates.

U.S. stocks retreated from records yesterday, with biotechnology companies leading losses. The Nasdaq Composite Index topped its dot-com-era high last week and the S&P 500 closed at a record as Google Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Inc. rallied after posting financial results. U.S. shares have still lagged most developed-market indexes this year.

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