U.S. stocks edged lower on Wednesday, pressured by falling crude-oil prices, as investors awaited a policy statement from the Federal Reserve.
Trading was subdued ahead of the Fed's announcement, with investors focused on whether the central bank will signal any changes to its plan for asset purchases or monetary policy.
October crude oil futures shed 4 percent to $68.85 per barrel after data from the Energy Information Administration showed oil stockpiles unexpectedly rose last week.
The inventory level is bearish and that's pushing stocks to the downside, said Dan Faretta, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock in Chicago.
Demand for oil has been weak, and the markets are consolidating. If oil prices break, that could continue to pull markets lower.
The Fed is expected to keep interest rates unchanged, so investors will look to the committee's statement and whether the language used suggests a shift in its efforts to revive the economy by flooding the markets with cheap money. The Fed's statement is expected around 2:15 p.m. EDT.
It won't be a surprising statement, Faretta said. It might say that the economy is improving and that inflation is in check. If (Fed Chairman Ben) Bernanke says that about inflation, you may see the market rally this afternoon. If he doesn't, we'll see a muted trade.
The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> dropped 19.72 points, or 0.21 percent, to 9,808.79. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> fell 3.08 points, or 0.29 percent, to 1,068.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> fell 2.35 points, or 0.11 percent, to 2,143.92.
Cereal maker General Mills Inc
Ford Motor Co
Real estate investment trusts (REITs) Colony Financial Inc
Also pressuring REITs was a BMO Capital Markets downgrade of the sector to market perform. The Dow Jones U.S. Residential REITs Index <.DJUSRN> dropped 1.8 percent.
Airline stocks fell after American Airlines parent company AMR Corp
AMR dropped 4.2 percent to $8.09 while US Airways dropped 9.9 percent to $4.71. The AMEX airline index <.XAL> dropped 2.2 percent.
U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking at the United Nations, vowed to work for balanced and sustained growth at a Group of 20 nations summit in Pittsburgh this week, saying financial regulation needed strengthening to put an end to the greed, excess and abuse that caused the financial crisis.
(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)