By KEN SWEET, AP Markets Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks turned lower in the last hour of trading Wednesday as investors worked through the minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting. Energy stocks were among the few sectors to rise as the price of natural gas surged 11 percent.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 52 points, less than 0.3 percent, to 16,077 as of 3:30 p.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost nine points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,832 and the Nasdaq composite lost 33 points, or 0.7 percent, to 4,240.
FED MINUTES: At their meeting, the Federal Reserve's policymakers agreed that the central bank should keep gradually reducing their stimulus program as long as the economy keeps improving. Policymakers also discussed the need to stress to investors that the Fed plans to keep short-term interest rates near zero for the foreseeable future.
MORE M&A: Signet Jewelers, which owns Kay Jewelers and Jared the Galleria of Jewelry, said it is buying Zale's for $21 per share in cash. The news sent shares of both companies sharply higher. Zales jumped $5.98, or 40 percent, to $20.89 and Signet was up $13.99, or 18 percent, to $93.30. The Zales-Signet combination is the latest in a series of brand-name deals that have been announced in the last few weeks. On Monday, pharmaceutical giants Forest Laboratories and Actavis announced they would merge in a $25 billion deal.
"I suspect we'll see more M&A, with all the money these companies have on their balance sheets," said Ian Winer, director of trading at Wedbush Securities.
NOT SO FAST: Netflix fell $4.78, or 1 percent, to $432.07. The company is reportedly in a dispute with Verizon Communications and other telecom companies over the cost of carrying Netflix's programming over their networks. Netflix is one of the biggest users of Internet bandwidth in the U.S., and it usage continues to grow as more high-definition video becomes available. Verizon and other Internet service providers want Netflix to pay more to use their network, according to The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets.
TARIFF DECISION: U.S. Steel fell $1.89, or 7 percent, to $24.85. The Commerce Department decided not to impose tariffs on South Korean steel pipe makers. The U.S. is South Korea's biggest market for steel, and imports from Korea push down steel prices in the U.S., hurting companies like U.S. Steel.
NATURAL GAS SOARS: The price for natural gas jumped 60 cents, or 11 percent, to $6.15 per 1,000 cubic feet, the first time it's been over $6 in four years. Natural gas has climbed sharply this year, due in large part to the cold weather that has plagued most of the country, leading to higher-than-usual demand. Natural gas companies Chesapeake Energy and Devon Energy rose more than 2.5 percent. Energy giant Chevron was up $1.22, or 1 percent, to $113.93.
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