(By Balachander) U.S. stocks closed in red, erasing earlier gains, as investors weighed minutes from last month's Federal Reserve policy meeting and awaited a key monthly jobs data.
The S&P 500 Index shed 0.21 percent to end at 1,459.36. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.16 percent to finish at 13,391.36. The Nasdaq Composite Index retreated 0.38 percent to close at 3,100.57.
"A few members expressed the view that ongoing asset purchases would likely be warranted until about the end of 2013" while a few others did not specify time frame or total for purchases," minutes of the Fed's December 11-12 policy-setting committee meeting showed.
"Several others thought that it would probably be appropriate to slow or stop purchases well before the end of 2013, citing concerns about financial stability or the size of the balance sheet."
The keenly-awaited Labor Department's non-farm payrolls data and unemployment rate are due on Friday, with expectations of addition of 150,000 jobs last month and jobless rate held at 7.7 percent.
In other data, the number of Americans who continued to receive jobless benefits unexpectedly increased last week, a government data showed. Jobless claims rose 10,000 to 372,000 for the week ended Dec. 29 from a revised 362,000, while economists projected 355,000 applications.
Another report showed U.S. economy added more private sector jobs than expected in December. According to the ADP National Employment Report, U.S. private sector added 215,000 jobs last month, versus economists expectations of an addition of 133,000 jobs and a revised 148,000 jobs in November.
On Wednesday, U.S. stocks rallied on the first trading day of 2013 after lawmakers in Washington reached an agreement to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts. The fiscal cliff bill, known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama will sign the legislation that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession, The White House said.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: FDO, GM, F, ROST, RIG, LTD, MLNX, SPWR, HOTT, LNDC
In corporate news, Family Dollar Stores Inc. (NYSE: FDO) tumbled 12.96 percent after the operator of self-service retail discount stores reduced its full-year forecast and posted flat quarterly earnings amid contraction of margins due to stronger sales of lower-margin consumables.
General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) rose 2.33 percent and 1.97 percent, respectively, after the companies posted higher monthly U.S. sales. For December, GM U.S. sales rose 5 percent and Ford sales grew 2 percent.
Ross Stores Inc. (NASDAQ: ROST) jumped 7.97 percent after the company said comparable store sales for December grew 6 percent and the discounter increased its earnings guidance.
Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG) surged 6.42 percent after its unit agreed to plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act (CWA) for negligent discharge of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and pay a total of $1.4 billion in fines, recoveries and penalties.
Limited Brands Inc. (NYSE: LTD) retreated 5.68 percent after the retailer of women's intimate apparel posted monthly sales that missed market expectations.
Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: MLNX) slumped 17.21 percent after the Israel-based fabless semiconductor company reduced its revenue guidance for the fourth quarter.
SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) surged 48.12 percent after MidAmerican Solar said it has acquired the 579-megawatt Antelope Valley solar projects from SunPower. Lazard Capital upgraded rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral".
Hot Topic Inc. (NASDAQ: HOTT) gained 10.91 percent after the mall and web based specialty retailer said comparable store sales for the combined November/December "Holiday" period increased 2.2 percent. The company also forecast 2013 earnings to increase 30 percent to 35 percent over fiscal 2012.
Landec Corp. (NASDAQ: LNDC) gained 15.68 percent after the polymer technology company lifted its revenue forecast for the full year 2013.
European markets closed mixed, with Germany's DAX down 0.29 percent to close at 7,756.44. France's CAC40 fell 0.34 percent to finish at 3,721.17. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 advanced 0.33 percent to end at 6,047.34.
Among Asian markets, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index advanced 0.37 percent to end at 23,398.60. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,764.78, up 0.26 percent. China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index and Japan's Nikkei 225 were shut for holidays.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Crude oil futures slipped 0.52 percent to $92.64 per barrel, and natural gas futures dropped 1.14 percent to $3.20 per million metric British thermal units. Gold futures fell 1.50 percent to $1,664 per ounce and silver futures retreated 2.93 percent to $30.13 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro tumbled 1.02 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3052. The British pound lost 0.94 percent against the greenback to 1.6102, and the dollar shed 0.09 percent against the Japanese yen to 87.2600.