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US stocks mostly up as Fed debate intensifies

Wall Street stocks finished mostly higher on Wednesday (Aug 20) as US Federal Reserve minutes showed rising debate over recent improvements in the jobs market.

NEW YORK: Wall Street stocks finished mostly higher on Wednesday (Aug 20) as US Federal Reserve minutes showed rising debate over recent improvements in the jobs market.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 59.54 points (0.35 percent) to 16,979.13. The broad-based S&P 500 gained 4.91 points (0.25 percent) to 1,986.51, narrowly missing a record. The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 1.03 points (0.02 percent) to 4,526.48.

Minutes from the July 29-30 Fed meeting showed an intensifying debate on how much the labor market has tightened and how that would impact inflation and the timing of the Fed's plan to raise benchmark interest rates.

Michael James, managing director of equity trading at Wedbush Securities, said the Fed minutes showed "nothing really new" about the central bank's thinking on interest rates.

But James said the market was heartened by commentary from retailers this week that suggest an uptick in consumer spending. "People are feeling much better about retail going into the holidays in a few months and that's helping to support better market tone," he said.

Large US retailer Target advanced 1.8 percent after the company trimmed its 2014 profit forecast due to poor results in Canada and the costs of a big consumer data breach last year. But the company said US sales picked up in the latter part of the quarter.

Home-improvement retailer Lowe's rose 1.6 percent as second-quarter earnings rose 10.4 percent to US$1.0 billion (S$1.25 billion) behind a 4.4 percent rise in comparable store sales. However, Lowe's lowered its forecast for 2014 sales growth to 4.5 percent from 5 percent. Dow component Home Depot, another big home-improvement retailer, jumped 2.9 percent.

Teen fashion house American Eagle Outfitters jumped 12.0 percent as earnings of three cents per share beat an analyst forecast to break even. Interim chief executive Jay Schottenstein said the results reflected "significant progress" in improving the company's inventory levels.

Bank of America rose 0.5 percent on reports the company was close to a US$17 billion (S$21.2 billion) agreement with the Justice Department to settle charges it misled investors on mortgage-linked securities.

Bond prices were mixed. The yield on the 10-year US Treasury rose to 2.43 percent from 2.41 percent on Tuesday, while the 30-year held steady at 3.22 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.

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