U.S. stocks drifted lower on Monday ahead of this week's Federal Reserve policy meeting, as some investors expect the central bank to adopt a more hawkish tone in its statement.
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Investors are viewing the Scottish referendum scheduled for Thursday as a risk event, since a "yes" vote would have far-reaching implications on other counties in Europe.
The S&P 500 (SPX) fell 2 points, or 0.1%, to 1,983.36. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) was flat at 16,977.75. The Nasdaq Composite (RIXF) fell 32 points, or 0.7%, to 4,559.62.
Steven Wieting, global chief investment strategist at Citi Private Bank, said markets are likely to drift sideways until the Fed meeting.
"There is a lot of speculation on whether the Fed will update the timing of interest-rate increases. Also, the uncertainty surrounding the Scottish vote, which has already hit UK stocks and sterling, is weighing on sentiment as a 'yes' vote will threaten political unity in Europe," Wieting said.
Data: The Empire State manufacturing survey improved to a near five-year high, though the details were not as strong as the headline index, the New York Fed said Monday.
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Separately, industrial production declined unexpectedly in August to mark the first drop since January, and a series of revisions left output in July lower than previously estimated, according to data released Monday.
Weak Chinese factory data over the weekend put pressure on commodities and global equities. Official figures from China on Saturday showed the country's industrial output growth slipped in August to its lowest level since the 2008 global financial crisis, dealing a blow to companies and economies dependent on China.
Stocks to watch: European and U.S. brewers were in focus after news reports of potential financing of deals between AB InBev (AHBIY) and SABMiller. Molson Coors (TAP.NV.T) would benefit from such a deal as US antitrust authorities would likely require the combined entity to sell SAB.LN's stake in the MillerCoors US JV. Molson Coors jumped 7%. AB InBev was up 3.4%.
RadioShack Corp. (RSH) shares soared 15% after the consumer electronics retailer said that its chief financial officer, John Feray, has resigned. Holly Etlin, an adviser to the company, is taking over in the interim.
Apple Inc (AAPL) inched 0.5% higher after the tech company said Friday preorders for its new iPhones hit a record, though it didn't provide details.
Netflix (NFLX) share fell 2.3% even as the company is launching in three new markets in Europe on Monday. (Read more about the day's notable movers here: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/apple-yahoo-yum-in-focus-2014-09-14.)
Other markets: In Asia, stocks listed in Hong Kong fell to mark a seventh session of losses, under pressure from the weak Chinese data. The dollar (USDJPY) climbed against the yen to Yen107.24.
European stocks were mixed, with the Chinese data in sight. Gold prices (GCZ4) were moving up, while oil futures (CLV4) were losing ground.