Stocks Pull Back After Fed Minutes Fan Rate Worries

U.S. stocks ended little changed in their 2007 debut session Wednesday as minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting renewed concerns about the strength of the economy and corporate profits.

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The Dow Jones industrial average rose 11.37 points, or 0.09 percent, to end at 12,474.52. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index slipped 1.70 points, or 0.12 percent, to finish at 1,416.60. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 7.87 points, or 0.33 percent, to close at 2,423.16.

That offset earlier optimism about a drop in oil prices, and news that the embattled chief executive of Home Depot Inc. (HD) had resigned that had pushed the Dow to an intraday record high.

Energy stocks suffered their worst one-day fall in over a year as oil prices tumbled more than 4 percent. But positive analyst comments prompted a gain in the shares of Web search leader Google Inc. (GOOG), which helped support the Nasdaq.

The biggest weight on the market, however, were minutes from the Fed's December meeting, which showed some Fed officials felt risks to economic growth had increased.

"Traders questioned both growth in the U.S. economy and whether the Fed is indeed done raising interest rates," said Tim Biggam, options strategist at Man Securities, an options brokerage firm in Chicago. "The day started out bad for oil and other commodity-related stocks."

Earlier in the session, the Dow hit an all-time high of 12,580.35.

The U.S. stock market was closed on Monday for New Year's Day and Tuesday for a national day of mourning for former President Gerald Ford, who died last week.

Shares of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) were the heaviest weight on both the Dow and the S&P 500 as mild weather in the U.S. Northeast cut demand for heating oil and prompted a drop in crude prices. Exxon Mobil's stock lost 3.3 percent, or $2.52, to $74.11 on the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. crude oil for February delivery fell $2.73 to settle at $58.32 a barrel.

The CBOE oil index of energy company stocks fell 3.3 percent — its biggest one-day drop since December 2005.

However, sliding oil prices also sparked optimism that high energy costs would not weigh down corporate profits.

"The decline in oil has helped transportation stocks, which have lagged the market badly for the last few months," said Michael Sheldon, chief market strategist at New York brokerage Spencer Clarke.

The Dow Jones Transportation Average finished up almost 2 percent.

Helping the Dow, shares of Home Depot Inc. gained 2.3 percent after the big U.S. home improvement retailer's Chief Executive Robert Nardelli, who came under fire last year for a pay package, abruptly left in a mutual decision with its board of directors.

Home Depot shares shot up 91 cents to $41.07 on the NYSE and ranked second among the Dow's biggest gainers.

Shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) climbed 3 percent, or $1.37, to $47.55 after the world's largest retailer estimated over the weekend that December same-store sales rose more than expected in the crucial holiday shopping period.

On the Nasdaq, shares of Google Inc. rose 1.5 percent, or $7.11, to $467.59. Analysts at Piper Jaffray raised their price target on Google to $630 from $600, while Stifel Nicolaus said Google has replaced eBay Inc. (EBAY) on its select list.

General Motors Corp. (GM) was another weight on the market, falling 4.1 percent, or $1.27, to $29.45 on the NYSE, after the company said its U.S. December sales fell nearly 10 percent and that it would cut its first-quarter production.

GM was the Dow's second-biggest loser.

Trading volume was heavy on the New York Stock Exchange, with about 2.07 billion shares changing hands. On the Nasdaq, about 2.48 billion shares were traded.

Advancing shares outnumbered decliners by a ratio of about 9 to 8 on the NYSE and about 16 to 15 on the Nasdaq.

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