February 20, 2019 / 4:46 PM / a month ago

US STOCKS-Wall St edges higher ahead of Fed minutes

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* Investors eye FOMC minutes at 2 pm ET

* U.S.-China trade talks continue in Washington

* CVS falls on weak forecast, pressures healthcare sector

* Southwest falls, weighs on other airlines

* Indexes up: Dow 0.04 pct, S&P 0.07 pct, Nasdaq 0.21 pct (Adds comments, details, updates prices)

By Shreyashi Sanyal

Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose sluggishly on Wednesday, as investors awaited the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its latest meeting, while assessing the latest developments in the U.S.-China trade talks.

Cautious signals from the Fed on further interest rate hikes last month as well hopes of progress in the trade negotiations have helped the S&P 500 climb about 18 percent from its December lows, bringing the benchmark closer to a record high it hit in September.

Minutes from the Fed’s January policy meeting, due at 2:00 p.m. ET (1900 GMT), is expected to reaffirm the central bank’s statement last month that it would be patient with further interest rate hikes after markets swooned late in December on fears of an economic slowdown.

“The Fed minutes is straight going to give confirmation of what we’ve been hearing about - a slowdown of the balance sheet runoff and the Fed becoming dovish,” said Jeff Zipper, managing director for investments at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.

Technology stocks led the way up, putting the Nasdaq on course to post its eighth day of gains, with Apple Inc rising 1.0 percent and chip stocks climbing 1.3 percent.

Financial stocks were largely flat ahead of the release of the minutes, but banks rose 0.20 percent.

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that 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.

It was assumed until now that U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports would rise to 25 percent from 10 percent if no trade deal was reached by then.

“My sense is that a deal is going to get done, but not sure if March 1 will be the date. At least the market is comfortable with the scenario that it will get done,” said Zipper.

Trade-exposed stocks such as Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc rose more than 1 percent, boosting the Dow.

At 11:24 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 11.02 points, or 0.04 percent, at 25,902.34. The S&P 500 was up 1.83 points, or 0.07 percent, at 2,781.59 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 15.78 points, or 0.21 percent, at 7,502.55.

The healthcare sector fell 0.35 percent, weighed by a 7.2 percent fall in CVS Health Corp after the drugstore chain operator missed full-year profit forecast.

Southwest Airlines Co slipped 5.4 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 2.40 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.61-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.33-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 25 new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 74 new highs and eight new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Shounak Dasgupta)

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