February 20, 2019 / 6:06 PM / 3 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall Street treads water ahead of Fed minutes

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* Investors eye FOMC minutes at 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT)

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

* Southwest drops, weighs on other airlines

* VIX drops to lowest level in over 4 months

* Indexes dip: Dow 0.06 pct, S&P 0.03 pct, Nasdaq 0.17 pct (\Updates to early afternoon)

By Shreyashi Sanyal

Feb 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday, as investors awaited the Federal Reserve’s minutes from its January meeting and details on trade talks between the United States and China.

The minutes are expected to reaffirm the central bank’s statement last month that it would be “patient” with respect to further rate hikes after markets swooned late in December on fears of an economic slowdown.

“Investors are comfortable with the outlook right now. Everyone is betting on a pause in 2019 and today’s minutes aren’t going to change that,” said Varun Ghotgalkar, equities strategist at AXA IM in Paris, France.

A dovish Fed and progress in trade negotiations have helped the S&P 500 rise about 18 percent from its December lows. The index is trading 5.3 percent below the record closing high it hit in late September.

Materials stocks rose 1.46 percent, leading gains among the major 11 S&P sectors, boosted by CF Industries Holdings Inc, Mosaic Co and FreeportMcMoran . Bank stocks rose 0.33 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.

Trade-exposed stocks such as Boeing Co and Caterpillar Inc rose about 1 percent, boosting the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

The CBOE volatility index, also known as Wall Street’s fear gauge, touched its lowest level in more than 4 months.

At 12:38 p.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 16.26 points, or 0.06 percent, at 25,875.06. The S&P 500 was down 0.91 points, or 0.03 percent, at 2,778.85 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 13.03 points, or 0.17 percent, at 7,473.73.

The healthcare sector fell 0.39 percent, weighed by a 7.3 percent fall in CVS Health Corp after the drugstore chain operator missed full-year profit forecast.

Southwest Airlines Co slipped 5.1 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 2.02 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.64-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by a 1.25-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 30 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 83 new highs and 11 new lows. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Shounak Dasgupta)

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