* Federal Reserve minutes point to rate hike ‘fairly soon’
* Dow index buoyed by DuPont after merger news
* Toll Brothers surges after quarterly results
* Dow up 0.16 pct, S&P down 0.11 pct, Nasdaq down 0.09 pct (Updates to close of U.S. markets)
By Lewis Krauskopf
NEW YORK, Feb 22 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 ended modestly weaker on Wednesday, holding losses after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting kept alive a potential near-term interest rate hike, while DuPont shares helped the Dow close at an all-time high for a ninth straight session.
The major U.S. indexes are trading around record highs, driven up since President Donald Trump’s Nov. 8 election by the promise of lower taxes, reduced regulations and higher infrastructure spending.
Many Fed policymakers said it may be appropriate to raise rates again “fairly soon” should jobs and inflation data come in line with expectations, according to the minutes of the Fed’s Jan. 31-Feb. 1 discussion released on Wednesday.
Ahead of the release of the minutes, traders were expecting a 27-percent chance of a rate hike at the Fed’s March meeting, and a 53-percent chance in May, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Separately on Wednesday, Fed Governor Jerome Powell said it will be appropriate for the U.S. central bank to raise rates “perhaps relatively soon.” Chair Janet Yellen said last week the Fed will likely need to raise rates at an upcoming meeting.
Recent comments by Yellen and other Fed officials appear to suggest the Fed could raise rates at its March meeting, but the “market is not there”, said Walter Todd, chief investment officer with Greenwood Capital in Greenwood, South Carolina.
“I don’t see anything in the minutes that changed that narrative,” Todd said. The Fed “is trying to give itself maximum flexibility to move and the market is kind of stubbornly saying ‘You’re not going in March’.” The S&P 500 lost 2.56 points, or 0.11 percent, to 2,362.82 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 5.32 points, or 0.09 percent, to 5,860.63.
The S&P energy sector fell 1.6 percent as oil prices dropped.
“It’s just a little breather,” said Chuck Carlson, chief executive officer at Horizon Investment Services in Hammond, Indiana. “You are coming off a really strong period for stocks so to have a little bit of a respite today is not unusual.”
But the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 32.6 points, or 0.16 percent, to 20,775.6.
The Dow closed at an all-time high for a ninth straight session, the longest such streak since January 1987.
The Dow was buoyed by a 3.4-percent gain in DuPont shares. The company is set to win antitrust approval from European Union regulators for its $130 billion merger with Dow Chemical, sources told Reuters. Dow Chemical’s shares rose 4 percent.
A solid corporate earnings season has also encouraged investors. Profits for S&P 500 companies are on track to rise 7.6 percent in the fourth quarter, the best quarterly growth since the third quarter of 2014, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Toll Brothers shares rose 6.1 percent after the luxury homebuilder reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue.
Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 1.27-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.51-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted 57 new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 143 new highs and 31 new lows.
About 6.5 billion shares changed hands in U.S. exchanges, below the 6.8 billion daily average over the last 20 sessions. (Additional reporting by Terence Gabriel in New York and Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and James Dalgleish)