8-20-14 1:58 PM EDT | Email Article

By Victor Reklaitis and Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks stepped slightly higher Wednesday afternoon, working for a third straight days of gains as investors waited for minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting.

The S&P 500(SPX) edged up 3 points, or nearly 0.2%, to 1,984, approaching its July 24 record close at 1,987.98. The Dow Jones Industrial Average(DJI) tacked on 38 points, or 0.2%, to 16,957, while the Nadaq Composite(RIXF) dipped 3 points, or less than 0.1%, to 4,525.

Staples Inc.(SPLS) helped limit the S&P 500's advance, faring worst in that index after the retailer reported a drop in quarterly profit and sales. Apple Inc.(AAPL) gained 0.4% to $100.90 after hitting an intraday split-adjusted record of $101.09.

No major U.S. economic releases are on Wednesday's calendar beyond the minutes of the July 29-30 Federal Open Market Committee meeting at 2 p.m. Eastern. "The question which everyone will be asking is if the Fed are ready to increase the interest rate sooner rather than later. Some hawkish members have certainly started beating the drums of an early increase," said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Ava Trade. Read more: How the Fed could exit its easy-money policy

While investors may glean clues about the Fed's exit strategy from the minutes, markets may also quickly move past them to focus on Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen's speech at 10 a.m. Eastern Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Read: Yellen to stress patience on rates at Jackson Hole

What strategists are saying: The S&P 500 could face resistance in the short term as the benchmark nears its prior record close, said Joe Bell, senior equity analyst for Schaeffer's Investment Research. Prior highs "generally act as some sort of speed bump," he told MarketWatch.

Investors should keep buying the dips in this market, because it's just showing signs of a maturing bull phase, rather than "warning of an impending market turnaround," said Citi strategists in a recent note.

Movers & shakers: Hertz Global Holdings Inc.(HTZ) shares slumped 9% after the rental-car company said it expects to be "well below the low end" of guidance. Also read: It's 'difficult to find any positives' in Hertz warning

Apple's jump to an intraday record comes after the tech giant nailed an all-time split-adjusted closing high of $100.53 on Tuesday. Read: 7 reasons why this product cycle will be different for Apple

Lowe's Cos.(LOW) rose 0.7%, while Target Corp. (TGT) was up 2%. Each retailer had dropped earlier Wednesday in the wake of a lowered guidance. (Read more about today's jumpiest stocks in the Movers & Shakers column http://www.marketwatch.com/story/target-lowes-petsmart-report-earnings-wednesday-2014-08-19.)

Other markets: The British pound (GBPUSD) rose against the dollar after the minutes of the Bank of England's latest policy meeting showed a split vote for the first time in three years, with two members voting for a rate hike. The Stoxx Europe 600 closed lower, halting a two-day rally. In Asia, stocks finished with moderate gains, outside a small loss for the Shanghai Composite .

-Victor Reklaitis; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com


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08-20-14 1358ET

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