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US stocks mixed as Federal Reserve meets on rates

By BERNARD CONDON

AP Business Writers NEW YORK (AP) - U.S. stocks flicked between small gains and losses in morning trading Tuesday as technology and small-company stocks weighed on the market for a second straight day. Investors are keeping an eye on a two-day Federal Reserve meeting that got underway Tuesday.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose three points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,986 as of 11 a.m. Eastern time. The Dow Jones industrial average lost five points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 17,026. The Nasdaq composite fell two points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 4,517.

FED WATCH: Fed policy makers start a two-day meeting on Tuesday that many investors expect will bring it closer to raising its key interest rate as the economy strengthens. Fed Chair Janet Yellen will discuss the outlook for employment and inflation and the bank's rate plans in a press conference on Wednesday. The Fed has held the rate close to zero for more than five years, and stocks have surged against that backdrop.

INFLATION WATCH: A measure of prices that U.S. producers receive for their goods and services was unchanged in August, the latest sign that inflation is in check. A drop in wholesale gas and food prices was offset by higher prices for transportation and shipping services, the Labor Department said.

WINNERS AND LOSERS: Energy stocks rose 0.6 percent, the second-biggest gain of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500, as oil prices climbed. Benchmark U.S. crude was up 88 cents, or 1 percent, to $93.80 in New York. The technology sector eased 0.2 percent, while the Russell 2000, an index of small company stocks, slipped 0.3 percent after falling 1.2 percent the day before.

BUYBACK BOOST: Humana Inc. rose $3.60 to $131.26, a gain 2.8 percent. The health insurer said it plans to repurchase as much as $2 billion of its own shares, double what it had previously planned. The stock has climbed 27 percent so far this year.

SCOTLAND'S CHOICE: Investors are also awaiting a referendum on Scottish independence on Thursday. The British pound has turned volatile in recent weeks as opinion polls narrowed ahead of the vote. A yes decision could prompt renewed jitters in the markets as investors ponder the economic and financial fallout. The pound was down 0.1 percent Tuesday at $1.6216.

EUROPEAN MARKETS: In Europe, Germany's DAX fell 0.5 percent and France's CAC-40 declined 0.6 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 shed 0.3 percent.

THE QUOTE: "Uncertainty surrounding the Scottish referendum and the Fed decision is really weighing on investor sentiment," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari.

ASIA'S DAY: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.2 percent while South Korea's Kospi gained 0.3 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.9 percent after a trading session was abbreviated by a morning typhoon warning.

BONDS: Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note eased to 2.58 percent from 2.59 percent late Monday.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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