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Stocks edge higher as Fed meeting begins

    Trader Jonathan Niles, center, worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 25. U.S. futures are barely moving today with so much riding on upcoming policy decisions at the Fed.

NEW YORK » Stocks edged higher today as Federal Reserve policymakers began a meeting where they were expected to extend a bold economic stimulus campaign.

Following a 16-day partial shutdown of the U.S. government, economists are doubtful that the Fed will begin winding down its $85 billion monthly bond-buying program until at least next year. The budget showdown in Washington rattled consumer confidence and likely crimped economic growth.

"It seems that any movement in the reduction of their bond buying seems to be moving off to be a 2014 event," said Cam Albright, director of asset allocation at Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors.

The Fed’s policy is aimed at keeping long-term interest rates very low. That benefits U.S. companies by helping them to borrow cheaply and increase their earnings. The program has also helped push the stock market to record highs.

About half the companies in the Standard and Poor’s 500 have reported earnings and, so far, most are doing better than investors had expected. Companies in the index are currently forecast to log third-quarter earnings growth of 4.5 percent, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

The S&P 500 rose five points today, or 0.4 percent, to 1,767 as of 11:45 a.m. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 56 points, or 0.4 percent, to 15,624. The Nasdaq composite edged down four points, or 0.1 percent, to 3,935.

Stocks mostly rose even after some lackluster economic data on retail sales and consumer confidence.

Retail sales fell 0.1 percent in September, the weakest showing since March, as auto sales dipped, the Commerce Department said today. Americans’ confidence in the economy fell this month to the lowest level since April, as many worried about the impact of a the government shutdown, according to a separate report from the Conference Board.

The reports that suggest sluggish economic growth appear to be welcomed by some investors. That’s because without signs of accelerating growth, the Fed is unlikely to cut back on its stimulus.

"The data that has been the most attractive to (stock) markets seems to be the data that maintains the status quo," said Brad Sorensen, the director of market and sector analysis at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was unchanged at 2.52 percent.

In commodities trading, oil fell 46 cents, or 0.5 percent to $98.21 a barrel. Gold dropped $4.70, or 0.4 percent, to $1,348 an ounce.

Among stocks making big moves:

— Masco rose 78 cents, or 3.7 percent, to $21.70 after the maker of cabinets, plumbing fixtures and other building products, said late Monday that new home construction helped increase its income, which beat market expectations.

— Xylem rose $3.62, or 12.5 percent, to $33.55 after the company, which makes water treatment systems, posted third-quarter earnings that exceeded the expectations of analysts as demand in Europe and emerging market economies picked up.

— Tesla fell $6.17, or 3.9 percent, to $156.56. The electric carmaker’s stock has slipped about 19 percent from its all-time high of $193.37, reached Sept. 30, following reports that one of the company’s Model S sedans had burst into flames after a crash.

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