U.S. Stocks Open Mixed Ahead Of Fed Decision

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks opened mixed Wednesday, as caution ahead of the Federal Reserve's afternoon decision on interest rates kept buyers on the sidelines and offset the boost from strong earnings from Morgan Stanley and Oracle Corp.

Momentum also should benefit from strong performances overnight in many foreign markets, including China where the Shanghai Composite rose 0.8% to a record 3,057.38.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 6 points at 12,282.

The S&P 500 rose 1.1 point to 1,412, while the Nasdaq Composite was up 4.10 points at 2,412.

On Tuesday, stocks rose for a second day in a row, with the Dow industrials rising 61 points and the Nasdaq gaining almost 14 points. Upbeat numbers on housing starts and a $200 million loan for subprime lender Accredited Home Lenders helped shore up sentiment.

Investors are eager for the 2.15 pm decision on interest rates. Analysts believe that the Fed is most likely to once again leave the overnight rate unchanged at 5.25%, so the focus will be on the statement that accompanies the rates decision.

"The last two Federal Open Market Committee meetings produced rather significant rallies after the statement," said Marc Pado, chief U.S. market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald.

"Traders are clearly expecting a market friendly commentary," he said. "While there is no real expectation that the Fed will act, the language will be important."

"If the Fed were to admit that the economy was slowing, this could open the door to a rate cut in May," according to Pado. "However, I think the Fed will keep from making such a broad-brushed statement. Look for the Fed to admit that housing remains a concern, but we have not seen the weakness spread to the rest of the economy."

"Sub-prime lending is a problem, but it, too, hasn't spread to the prime loans. Inflation pressures still exist, but are under control," he said.

Stocks in motion

Shares of Morgan Stanley rose 3.3%. The bank reported a 70% rise in profit for the first quarter and handily beat Wall Street estimates.

Oracle Corp. climbed 3.7% after the business software maker reported a better-than-forecast 35% jump in quarterly profit on a 27% sales increase.

Adobe Systems , which makes Acrobat software, reported, a 37% profit rise, even though sales dropped more than predicted. The stock rose 4%.

Shares of chip maker SanDisk gained 3.9%. The company and Hynix Semiconductor announced a patent cross-license pact. Separately, The Wall Street Journal published an article saying that it may be looking up after a 36% decline in the last five months.

FedEx Corp. stock dropped 1.9%. The shipper said its fiscal third-quarter earnings fell 2% to $420 million, or $1.35 a share, from $428 million, or $1.38 a share, a year earlier, hurt by a "slowing economic environment", lower fuel surcharges and 6 cents a share due to winter storms.

JetBlue Airways Corp. reiterated a forecast of a minus-2% to minus-4% operating margin in the first quarter, when its operations were plagued by winter storms and delays, but also said its 2007 operating margin would be 7% to 9%. The stock rose 1.7%.

Other markets

Treasury price market action was restrained ahead of the Fed decision. The benchmark 10-year Treasury note last was down 1/32 at 100-16/32 with a yield of 4.558%.

The dollar rose against other major currencies, recovering from declines in the previous session. The euro fell 0.2% to $1.3294 as the dollar gained 0.5% to 117.86 yen.

Gold futures were steady in the early going, The April futures contract last was $1.80 higher at $660.80 an ounce.

The May crude futures contract last was 47 cents higher at $59.72 a barrel, ahead of inventory supply numbers for the latest week.

With prices at the pump on the rise, April reformulated gasoline futures rose 1.88 cents, or 1%, o $1.9609 a gallon in electronic trading. That would put the contract on track for its highest close in six months. The more active May contract was up 1.23 cents, or 0.7%, at $1.9035 a gallon.

By Leslie Wines