Stocks Little Changed After Fed Decision

Stocks rose modestly Wednesday after good earnings from Boeing Co. and the Federal Reserve's widely anticipated rate hike and a little-changed policy statement allowed investors to show some enthusiasm.

The Dow Jones industrial average (search) was up 44.85 points, or 0.43 percent, at 10,596.79. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index (search) was up 3.78 points, or 0.32 percent, at 1,193.19. The Nasdaq Composite Index (search) was up 6.36 points, or 0.31 percent, at 2,075.06.

The Fed's 25-basis-point interest-rate hike was widely expected so investors were more focused on the accompanying statement. Apprehension over the Fed's announcement overshadowed strong earnings news early in the session. Some buyers were still holding back even after the decision, in anticipation of President Bush's State of the Union address (search), though no surprises were expected.

"I think this was a decision that was very well anticipated. The Fed has been very clear throughout this tightening cycle that they will tighten at a measured pace," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, New York.

"The Fed telegraphed this series of rate increases extremely well and there have been absolutely no surprises — so the market pretty much yawns at it. It knows what the Fed's going to do and they're doing it. The only question is at what level does the Fed say, 'We've had enough for now.' We're getting closer, but I don't believe we're there yet."

The Federal Open Market Committee (search) decision, which brings the federal funds rate — the rate banks charge each other on overnight loans — to 2.50 percent, eliminated a hurdle for the market, but failed to spark a significant rally. Investors reacted "according to the script," said Ned Riley, chief investment officer of Riley Asset Management in Boston.

In explaining its action, the Fed repeated a previous promise that it believed it would be able to raise rates at a "pace that is likely to be measured."

Analysts believe the Fed will keep raising rates in small quarter-point steps as long as there are no signs that inflation is becoming a problem.

The nation's inventory of crude oil fell by 300,000 barrels last week to 295.3 million barrels, according to the Department of Energy (search). Traders had been expecting crude supplies to grow. U.S. supplies of distillate fuels, which include heating oil and diesel, shrank as expected. Light, sweet crude prices fell 43 cents to settle at $46.69 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange (search).

Google Inc. (GOOG) 7.3 percent, or $14.06, to $205.96, after reporting fourth-quarter profits that were seven times greater than the previous year. The owner of the world's most popular search engine would have earned 92 cents per share, excluding charges, far greater than the 77 cents Wall Street had expected.

"Google's positive news does help but we think in general the expectations for the technology area are still too optimistic," said Milton Ezrati, senior economic strategist, Lord Abbett & Co. cellular.

After the bell, shares of online retailer Inc. (AMZN) fell nearly 14 percent to $36.15 after it missed Wall Street estimates.

In its earnings report after the market closed, Amazon said that stripping out the benefit from realizing a $244 million deferred tax asset, its fourth-quarter net income excluding items would have been 35 cents per share. On that basis, Wall Street analysts were expecting the company to post a per-share profit of 40 cents per share.

The volume of purchases of Amazon puts before Wednesday's closing bell was active, indicating that some options players were making bearish bets before the online retailer released its quarterly earnings.

Dow component Boeing Co. (BA) climbed 2.3 percent, or $1.19, to $52.23. The commercial and military jet maker posted an 84 percent drop in quarterly profit on charges related to two aircraft programs, but it beat forecasts and sees stronger growth through 2006.

Countrywide Financial Corp. (CFC) fell 5.6 percent, or $2.12, to $35.91 after the largest U.S. mortgage lender said fourth-quarter profit declined 39 percent, as earnings at its largest business, mortgage banking, fell by two-thirds.

Shares of video game publisher THQ Inc (THQI) jumped 18 percent, or $4.10, to $26.96, a day after it said quarterly profit doubled, beating Wall Street forecasts.

Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. (RL) added 61 cents to $39.20 after the apparel maker's earnings more than doubled thanks to sharply higher wholesale business and improved retail sales. Polo also raised its projected earnings for 2005, but forecast less growth in net income for the quarter ending in March because of a shorter reporting period.

Trading was active, with 1.59 billion shares changing hands on the New York Stock Exchange, above the 1.46 billion daily average for last year. About 1.96 billion shares were traded on Nasdaq, above the 1.81 billion daily average last year.

Advancers outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange by about 5 to 3 and by about 9 to 7 on Nasdaq.

The Russell 2000 index, which tracks smaller company stocks, was up 3.84, or 0.61 percent, at 631.98.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average added 0.20 percent. In Europe, France's CAC-40 gained 0.32 percent, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.20 percent and Germany's DAX index was up 0.38 percent.

Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.