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* U.S.-China trade talks continue in Washington
* Indexes: Dow up 0.2 pct, S&P up 0.2 pct, Nasdaq down 0.06 pct (Updates to late afternoon)
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were mostly higher in volatile late-afternoon trade on Wednesday as the release of the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its January meeting showed policymakers thought pausing on U.S. interest rate hikes last month posed little risk.
The minutes also showed many participants were not yet clear what adjustments to rates might be needed later this year.
“The minutes largely echoed the Fed’s cautious statement from its last meeting,” said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business Solutions in Washington. “I get the sense that rates are on hold until later this year. ... But the Fed stopped well short of closing the door to a rate hike later this year if the downside growth risks subside.”
The U.S. central bank surprised markets last month by suspending a three-year campaign to raise rates, saying it would be patient about making any adjustments to its target range for short-term interest rates, now at between 2.25 percent and 2.5 percent.
A dovish Fed and progress in U.S.-China trade negotiations have helped the S&P 500 rise about 18 percent from its lows in December, when the market swooned on fears of an economic slowdown. The index is trading about 5 percent below the record closing high it hit in late September.
The S&P materials index rose 1.9 percent, leading percentage gains among the major 11 S&P sectors, boosted by CF Industries Holdings Inc, Mosaic Co and FreeportMcMoran.
Investors also took in more news on the trade front, with President Donald Trump on Wednesday saying the United States would impose tariffs on European car imports if it cannot reach a trade deal with the European Union.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 53.96 points, or 0.21 percent, to 25,945.28, the S&P 500 gained 4.12 points, or 0.15 percent, to 2,783.88 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 4.26 points, or 0.06 percent, to 7,482.51.
On Tuesday, Trump said trade discussions with China were going well and suggested he was open to extending the deadline to complete the negotiations, saying March 1 was not a “magical” date.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.93-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.43-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 38 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 96 new highs and 15 new lows. (Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and Richard Leong in New York; editing by James Dalgleish and Jonathan Oatis)