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Global stocks mostly end down ahead of Fed; oil falls

A photo illustration shows U.S. Dollar and euro banknotes in Vienna March 16, 2015. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks mostly ended lower on Tuesday as investors turned their focus to the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting, which is being closely watched for signs of when the U.S. central bank will raise interest rates.

Wall Street stocks were broadly lower, pulling back after Monday's rally, but the S&P and the Dow pared losses in afternoon trading and the Nasdaq posted gains as Apple Inc rose 1.7 percent.

Other asset classes were also volatile. U.S. crude oil traded up as much as 0.7 percent but finished lower, its eighth decline in the past nine sessions, while Brent crude closed up for the first time in four days.

The U.S. dollar index turned flat, after earlier weakness. The euro, which recently hit a 12-year low, rose against the dollar for a second straight session as soft U.S. data cooled the dollar's recent rally.

Investors are awaiting the Fed's policy statement on Wednesday afternoon after the close of its meeting.

"People are waiting for the Fed to provide some degree of clarity going forward," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Many analysts expect the Fed to remove the word "patient" from its statement to describe its approach to raising rates later in the year. Doing so would put the Fed a step closer to its first rate hike since 2006.

Economists polled by Reuters are almost evenly split on whether a rate increase will come in June or later in the year. Recent U.S. data, including Tuesday's on February housing starts, has fueled talk that the Fed will remain on hold.

"If they're still on pace for a mid-year move, whatever language they use doesn't make a difference," O'Rourke said.

U.S. crude oil settled down 42 cents at $43.46 per barrel, after hitting a six-year low of $42.63. The recent weakness has come on oversupply and the possibility that a nuclear agreement with Iran could add to the glut.

Brent crude closed up 7 cents at $53.51 a barrel.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 128.41 points, or 0.71 percent, to 17,849.01, the S&P 500 lost 6.99 points, or 0.34 percent, to 2,074.2, and the Nasdaq Composite added 7.93 points, or 0.16 percent, to 4,937.44.

The MSCI International ACWI price index slipped 0.1 percent, well off its session lows of 0.45 percent.

European shares ended 0.7 percent lower a day after hitting a 7-1/2-year high. European equity markets retreated from gains built on the euro's decline, which cheapens the price of exports from the euro zone.

The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note rose 12/32 in price, pushing the yield down to 2.0542 percent.

The euro rose 0.2 percent to $1.0590, having earlier risen as much as 0.8 percent. Earlier this week, the euro dropped to a 12-year low of $1.0457.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of major currencies, rose less than 0.1 percent to 99.657. On Monday, the index posted its biggest drop in more than a month.

Gold prices fell 0.5 percent while silver was down 0.5 percent. Copper lost 1.1 percent in its second straight daily decline.

(Editing by Dan Grebler and Leslie Adler)