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Stocks mixed as earnings offset news on economy

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks opened mixed Wednesday as encouraging earnings reports helped to offset disappointing news that showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 4 points to 13,949 as of 9:58 a.m. EST. The Standard & Poor's 500 rose 1 point to 1,509. The Nasdaq composite gained 9 points to 3,162.

The U.S. economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defense spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter. That's a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 percent growth rate in the July-September quarter.

Amazon jumped $14.25 to $274.40 after the world's biggest online retailer showed improving profit margins when it posted fourth-quarter earnings late Tuesday. Boeing gained 30 cents to $73.95 after it reported earnings that beat analysts' expectations, as rising profits from commercial jets offset a smaller profit from defense work.

The Dow Jones average has surged since the start of the year climbing close to 14,000 and to within touching distance of its record level. Investors bought stocks after lawmakers reached a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" and on optimism the U.S. housing market is recovering and the jobs market is slowly healing.

Investors will parse the Federal Reserve's statement later Wednesday following the conclusion of the central bank's first two-day meeting this year.

Economists are expecting the Fed to affirm that it intends to keep short-term rates near zero until joblessness dips below 6.5 percent from the current 7.8 percent. The statement is scheduled to be released at 2:15 p.m. EST.

Among other stocks making big moves Wednesday;

— Chesapeake surged $1.33 to $20.35 after the company said late Tuesday that its embattled CEO Aubrey McClendon will leave the company this spring.