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* U.S.-China trade talks continue in Washington
* Fed flags end to balance sheet runoff,
* Indexes: Dow up 0.2 pct, S&P up 0.2 pct, Nasdaq up 0.03 pct (Updates to close)
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended higher on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting reaffirmed for investors that the U.S. central bank would be “patient” with respect to further interest rate hikes.
But policymakers gave little sense of how long their “patient” stance on the U.S. rate policy would last, according to minutes from the Jan. 29-30 meeting, resulting in jumpy afternoon activity and stocks trading on both sides of unchanged.
“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.”
Policymakers also promised “before too long” a plan for their $4 trillion balance sheet, the minutes showed.
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 rate-sensitive S&P financial index added to gains following the release of the minutes and ended up 0.6 percent.
But the S&P materials index, up 1.7 percent, led percentage gains among the major 11 S&P sectors, boosted by gains in commodity prices. Shares of CF Industries Holdings Inc , Mosaic Co and FreeportMcMoran rose.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 63.12 points, or 0.24 percent, to 25,954.44, the S&P 500 gained 4.94 points, or 0.18 percent, to 2,784.7 and the Nasdaq Composite added 2.30 points, or 0.03 percent, to 7,489.07.
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.
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.
Southwest Airlines Co slipped 5.7 percent after the carrier said it would take a $60 million hit from the partial U.S. government shutdown.
The carrier dragged down shares of other airlines, sending the Dow Jones US Airlines index down 2.6 percent.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.73-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.17-to-1 ratio favored advancers.
The S&P 500 posted 38 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 99 new highs and 17 new lows. (Additional reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru and Richard Leong in New York; editing by James Dalgleish, Jonathan Oatis and Susan Thomas)