U.S. Stocks Little Changed Amid Airlines Selloff, Fed Patience

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FOMC Minutes: Many Members Saw June Rate Rise as Unlikely

U.S. stocks closed little changed, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipping for a second day, as a selloff in airlines offset Federal Reserve meeting minutes that showed officials in no hurry to raise interest rates.

Southwest Airlines Co. fell to a six-month low to pace a drop among air carriers. Lowe’s Cos. slid 4.6 percent after reporting first-quarter profit that trailed analysts’ estimates. Yahoo! Inc. climbed 4.4 percent after affirming plans to spin off a stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Cablevision Systems Corp. jumped 18 percent amid cable industry deal speculation.

The S&P 500 Index fell 0.1 percent to 2,125.85 at 4 p.m. in New York, after briefly climbing above its all-time high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 26.99 points, or 0.2 percent, to 18,285.40 after closing Tuesday at a record. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose less than 0.1 percent. About 5.8 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, 9.6 percent below the three-month average.

“While the Fed continues to be data-dependent, they’re pushing back the timeline to later this year,” said Eric Wiegand, a senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in New York. “June is off the table. ‘‘Clarity is going to come in bits and pieces in further labor data and second-quarter earnings.’’

Fed officials last month didn’t expect to raise rates at their June meeting even as they concluded that a first-quarter economic slowdown was unlikely to persist, the meeting minutes showed. A ‘‘few’’ members said they anticipated the economy would be ready for a June liftoff.

Weak Inflation

In its April statement, Fed policy makers said the economy slowed partly reflecting ‘‘transitory factors,’’ and that it expected growth at a ‘‘moderate pace.’’ Since the meeting, payrolls figures have improved, while weaker-than-forecast data on manufacturing and retail sales prompted economists to mark down projections for second-quarter economic growth.

Chicago Fed President Charles Evans on Monday repeated his call to hold interest rates near zero until early 2016 and raise them only gradually thereafter, because inflation is still too far below the Fed’s goal.

The Fed has been struggling with raising rates as inflation remains tepid even as the job market has strengthened. A report on Friday is forecast to show consumer prices grew by 1.7 percent on a year-over-year basis, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists. The Fed’s target is 2 percent.

Gaging Growth

‘‘It’s still difficult to understand by how much U.S. growth is really picking up,” said Ros Price, the chief investment strategist at Seven Investment Management in London. “The Fed won’t have enough data -- even by September. Economic reports have been quite poor, and then we get a number like yesterday showing a solid housing market. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got a rate rise in December or even early next year.”

U.S. stocks held near their records yesterday as improving home-construction data bolstered speculation the economy will rebound from a weak winter. The S&P 500 has risen 1.9 percent this month. An increase in May would mark the index’s first back-to-back gains in six months. The gauge still trails most developed-market equity benchmarks in 2015 as a rising dollar and disappointing economic data limited gains.

Most S&P 500 members have reported results this earnings season, and 71 percent surpassed profit estimates. More than half missed sales projections. Hewlett-Packard Co., Best Buy Co. Inc. and Deere & Co. are among companies due to release earnings this week.

Airlines Tumble

The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index rose 0.2 percent to 12.88 The gauge, known as the VIX, fell 3.7 percent last week for its first weekly decline in three weeks.

Five of the S&P 500’s 10 main groups declined, with industrial companies weighed down the most by the slide in airline shares. Phone companies posted the best gains, after Altice SA’s $9.1 billion deal to buy a 70 percent stake in Suddenlink Communications, the seventh-largest U.S. cable company.

A Bloomberg index of airline stocks lost 8 percent, the most since Oct. 2011, amid signs that a year of lower fuel costs has left them poised to ramp up competition for customers with cut-rate fares and more routes.

Southwest Airlines Co. tumbled 9.1 percent after the carrier yesterday forecast its passenger unit revenue will fall 3 percent in the second quarter, and also said fuel costs in the period will be higher than what it predicted in an earnings call April 23.

JetBlue Airways Corp. slid 6.9 percent, while United Continental Holdings Inc. and American Airlines Group Inc. fell 10 percent. The Dow Jones Transportation Average lost 2 percent, the biggest retreat in two months, to the lowest level since Oct. 23.

Cable Companies

JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. sank at least 0.7 percent and Bank of America Corp. was little changed after JPMorgan and Citi agreed to plead guilty to charges tied to a currency-rigging probe and pay hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. The Fed fined Bank of America $205 million.

Bank shares in the S&P 500 declined from a seven-year high as Treasury yields retreated for the first time this week. Fifth Third Bancorp and SunTrust Banks Inc. lost more than 1.4 percent after Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst David George downgraded their shares.

Etsy Inc. plunged 18 percent. The online marketplace for hand-crafted goods said in its first earnings report as a public company that the strong dollar ate into first-quarter revenue.

Cablevision Systems Corp. soared 18 percent to its highest since 2011 on speculation that an agreement by Europe’s Altice to acquire control of Suddenlink may spur more deals in the cable industry.

Time Warner Cable Inc. climbed 5.4 percent to a record. The company, whose merger with Comcast Corp. was called off last month, has received a takeover approach from Altice, a person with knowledge of the matter said.

Yahoo Rebound

Hormel Foods Corp. jumped 4.2 percent, the most since August, after its quarterly profit exceeded analysts’ forecasts while revenue missed.

Yahoo added 4.4 percent after falling 7.6 percent Tuesday on concerns that Internal Revenue Service changes would affect efforts to exit from Alibaba. Potential changes to the tax-free treatment of spinoffs shouldn’t affect previously filed requests, the Web portal said in an e-mailed statement.

Endo Pharmaceuticals Plc led the health-care group higher, extending a rebound after a 5.4 percent drop Monday on its Par Pharmaceutical Holdings Inc. buyout. Shares rose 3.2 percent after climbing 2.8 percent yesterday, Endo’s best two-day gain since January.

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