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Stocks waver before Fed releases minutes

Steve Rothwell, AP Markets Writer

Specialist Jason Hardzewicz, left, works with traders at his post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday, July 10, 2013. Stocks nudged higher in early trading Wednesday before the Federal Reserve releases minutes from its most recent meeting. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stocks fluctuated between small gains and losses Wednesday morning before the Federal Reserve released 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 fell 35 points, or 0.2 percent, to 15,263 points as of 11:13 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,649. The Nasdaq composite gained a point to 3,505.

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.

"I suspect that the market is itching to go higher," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist, at Rockwell Global Capital. "The fear factor of the Fed trimming is abating."

The S&P 500 has regained much of the ground it lost beginning May 22, when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank could ease back on its stimulus later this year if the economy was strong enough. The index is now about 1 percent below the record close of 1,669 it set May 21. It fell as much as 6 percent below the record to 1,573 on June 24.

Bernanke will speak at the National Bureau of Economic Research after the market closes Wednesday.

Investors are 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 $2.16, or 2.1 percent, to $105.66 a barrel. The price of gold rose $11.50, or 0.5 percent, to $1,252 an ounce.

Among stocks making big moves:

— Hewlett-Packard rose 66 cents, or 2.6 percent, to $26.12 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 $1.39, or 3 percent, to $45.72 after the company reported revenue for the second quarter that fell short of analysts' estimates.

— Family Dollar Stores rose $2.30, or 3.6 percent, to $65.96 after the company's income beat analysts' forecasts.