Wall Street Locked in a Holding Pattern as ECB Meeting Looms

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The markets closed out Wednesday's session little changed as market participants remained cautious to make big trades ahead of the ECB's meeting and the monthly jobs report.

Today's Markets

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 11.5 points, or 0.09%, to 13047, the S&P 500 fell 1.5 points, or 0.11%, to 1403 and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 5.8 points, or 0.19%, to 3069.

The economic calendar was light on the day, with a report on labor productivity due out at 8:30 a.m. ET. However, action is expected to pick up as the week progresses.

The European Central Bank meets on Thursday. Market participants are expecting the central bank to outline a bond buying plan that ECB President Mario Draghi has repeatedly hinted at. Such a plan would be designed to keep borrowing costs in countries like Spain and Italy under control as part of a bigger effort to stem Europe's debt crisis.

According to multiple media reports, the ECB will buy sovereign debt with maturity between two and three years. The plan will be designed in such a way that the purchases are "sterilized," in a bid to lessen concerns about the central bank printing money, the report said.

Then on Friday, the Labor Department releases its monthly jobs report, which is considered to be one of the most important pieces of economic data. The U.S. economy is forecast to have added 125,000 jobs in August, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 8.3%.

FedEx (NYSE:FDX) cut its fiscal first quarter profit outlook to a range of $1.37 to $1.43 a share from $1.45 to $1.60. The company, which is often considered a bellwether of the broader economy, said "weakness in the global economy constrained revenue growth" at its unit that dispatches packages express across the world.

The downgrade from FedEx comes a day after a closely-watched report showed American manufacturing activity falling to its lowest level in more than three years in August. Service-sector activity in China, the world's second-biggest economy, also fell to a one-year low in August from July, according to a report from HSBC on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) shares got a boost after it was revealed in a regulatory filing that chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has no plans to sell shares for at least 12 months. Shares are trading at roughly half of their issue price in May.

Oil futures were slightly higher. The benchmark contract traded in New York gained 6 cents, or 0.06%, to $95.36 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline fell 0.08% to $2.95 a gallon.

In metals, gold fell $2.00, or 0.12%, to $1,694 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.22% to 2442, the English FTSE 100 dipped 0.25% to 5658 and the German DAX climbed 0.46% to 6965.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 dropped 1.1% to 8680 and the Chinese Hang Seng sold off by 1.5% to 6953.