Stocks were little changed on Wednesday with investors hesitant to make bets before the Federal Reserve's assessment of the economy later in the day.

The Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest-rate policy, will release minutes of its April 26-27 meeting at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT). Investors will look for hints about the Fed's QE2 stimulus program, which is widely expected to end in June, and will scrutinize any disagreements among officials.

Investors are also cautious about the economic outlook after Tuesday's data showing weakness in factory output and housing starts.

Things are tepid right now, especially after some weak economic numbers recently. Once we digest the Fed minutes, the market will be able to see more direction, said Stephen J. Carl, head equity trader at Williams Capital Group in New York.

Dell's shares rose 6.4 percent to $16.91 after the PC manufacturer reported profits late on Tuesday that exceeded expectations. The company also raised its fiscal 2012 outlook for operating income.

But Staples Inc's shares dropped 15.3 percent to $16.62 after the company slashed its full-year outlook on weak demand for office supplies and on higher costs.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 25.74 points, or 0.21 percent, at 12,453.84. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.19 points, or 0.09 percent, at 1,327.79. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 1.16 points, or 0.04 percent, at 2,784.37.

The S&P 500 <.SPX> and the Dow <.DJI> dipped below their 50-day moving averages on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Angela Moon, Editing by Kenneth Barry)