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Stocks edge higher before Fed minutes

Steve Rothwell, AP Markets Writer

In this Wednesday, July 3, 2013, photo, traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Asian stock markets were mixed Wednesday July 10, 2013 and European shares dipped as investors weighed expectations of robust U.S. corporate earnings against weak trade figures from China. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks nudged higher in early trading Wednesday before the Federal Reserve releases minutes from its most recent meeting.

Investors have been obsessing over Fed policy for the past month. They will parse the notes from the central bank's June meeting for clues about when the Fed might begin to ease back on its economic stimulus program. The minutes will be released at 2 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 21 points, or 0.1 percent, to 15,322 points in the first half hour of trading. The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed less than a point to 1,652. The Nasdaq composite gained six points, or 0.2 percent, to 3,511.

Stocks have risen for four days in a row as investors became more confident about the economy and shrugged off concerns that the Fed is close to cutting back on its $85 billion a month bond-buying program. That stimulus has been a major support for a four-year bull run in stocks.

Investors are also keeping an eye on corporate earnings as companies start to report results for the second quarter, which ended 10 days ago.

Analysts expect earnings growth to average 2.8 percent for the companies in the S&P 500, according to data from S&P Capital IQ.

In government bond trading, the yield on the 10-year note rose to 2.65 percent from 2.64 percent.

In commodities trading, the price of oil rose $1.79, or 1.7 percent, to $105.31 a barrel. The price of gold rose $6, or 0.5 percent, to $1,252.

Among stocks making big moves;

— Hewlett-Packard rose 75 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $26.22 after a Citigroup analyst raised his rating on the company. The analyst doubled his price target for the stock, saying the PC maker's turnaround efforts are beginning to take hold.

—Fastenal, an industrial and construction supplies distributor, fell $2, or 4.2 percent, to $45.06 after the company reported revenue for the second quarter that fell short of analysts' estimates.

— Family Dollar Stores rose $1.98, or 3.1 percent, to $65.96 after the company's income beat analysts' forecasts.