Stocks rise ahead of final Fed decision of 2013

Associated Press
FILE - In this Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, file photo, specialists Paul Cosentino, left, and Michael Shearin work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks were mostly higher in early trading on Wall Street Wednesday as the Federal Reserve ends its last two-day policy meeting of 2013. Homebuilder stocks rose sharply after the government reported that construction of new homes surged in November.

KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 45 points, or 0.3 percent, to 15,919 as of 11:10 a.m. Eastern. The Standard & Poor's 500 index gained 2 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,783 and the Nasdaq composite was down 6 points, or 0.1 percent, to 4,018.

FED DAY: Policymakers at the Federal Reserve will vote Wednesday on whether to keep up the bank's economic stimulus program. The central bank has been buying $85 billion in bonds a month to keep interest rates low and stimulate the economy. Investors widely expect the Fed will wind down the program within the next year. Few expect the Fed would do it this week with the end of the year approaching and most of the country heading on vacation in the next two weeks. Many economists expect that the pullback is likely to come in March.

THE QUOTE: Alec Young, global equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ, says investors have been ready for the Fed to scale back its stimulus for weeks. "This is widely anticipated, so I don't think it will be the end of the world once it finally happens," Young says.

MEET THE PRESS: Outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will hold his last press conference shortly after Wednesday's Fed decision is announced at 2 p.m. Eastern time. Bernanke's comments have typically moved the market in the past, so there could be some volatility this afternoon.

BUILDING BLOCKS: Markets are also reacting to good news on the housing front. The Commerce Department says builders broke ground on homes at the fastest pace in more than five years and 23 percent more than in October. Permits for single-family homes rose, indicating that builders are increasingly confident in the market. The homebuilder Lennar surprised Wall Street by reporting a 32 percent profit spike for the fourth quarter. The stock rose 90 cents, or 3 percent, to $36.09.

NOT SO FORD TOUGH: Ford slumped $1.44, or 9 percent, to $15.26 after the company issued a three-year profit forecast that came in short of investors' expectations. The company cited a large number of vehicle launches in 2014 as well as weakness in overseas markets. General Motors lost $1.57, or 4 percent, to $39.97.

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