NEW YORK – U.S. stocks were wavering between small gains and losses in early trading Thursday ahead of the Federal Reserve's announcement on whether it would raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade.
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KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was little changed at 16,735 as of 9:58 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was up a fraction at 1,995 and the Nasdaq composite edged up four points to 4,893.
TO HIKE OR NOT: Two months ago, it seemed almost certain that the Fed was going to raise rates in September. Now, after a summer of turmoil in financial markets and concerns about China's economy, there are more investors who believe the Fed will wait until December.
The Fed started its two-day policy meeting Wednesday and will announce its decision this afternoon. Interest rates have been near zero since 2008 in response to the financial crisis and Great Recession. The Fed's low interest rate policy was designed to encourage lending, but it also helped drive a seven-year bull market in stocks.
ANALYST QUOTE: "To hike or to hold, that is the question that vexes us today and has done so for quite a few months now," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.
EUROPE: Global markets meandered as investors waited for the Fed's decision. Germany's DAX index rose 0.2 percent, France's CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 lost 0.6 percent.
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PAY-PER-VIEW: Cablevision, a New York-area cable TV provider, jumped $4.59, or 16 percent, to $33.14 after agreeing to be bought by the European cable company Altice. The merger would create the fourth-largest cable company in the U.S.
DIAL TONE: Verizon slumped $1.44, or 3 percent, to $44.75 after the communications company said its earnings may be flat this upcoming year.
ENERGY: U.S. benchmark crude edged up 42 cents to $47.59 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils, fell 9 cents to $50.43 per barrel in London after a 4-percent jump the previous day.
BONDS AND CURRENCIES: U.S. government bond prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.28 percent. The euro rose 0.3 percent to $1.322 and the dollar rose 0.3 percent to $120.88 yen.