- The Washington Times - Monday, March 27, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) — Investors put off major buying decisions yesterday, leaving stocks mixed as Wall Street awaited the results of the first Federal Reserve rate-setting meeting chaired by Ben S. Bernanke.

“We’ve had a pretty good run here in anticipation that the Fed is nearly done raising interest rates,” said Mark Vitner, senior economist with Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, N.C. “But we have a real unknown quantity in Ben Bernanke … so everyone is on Fed watch.”

The Fed Open Market Committee under Mr. Bernanke is widely expected to follow the policy of former Chairman Alan Greenspan and announce a rate increase at the end of its two-day meeting later today. That would boost short-term rates one-quarter point to 4.75 percent.

Ahead of the announcement, the markets turned in a lackluster performance yesterday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 29.86, or 0.3 percent, to 11,250.11.

Broader stock indicators were mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which seesawed through the day, ended down 1.34, or 0.1 percent, at 1,301.61. The Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 2.76, or 0.1 percent, to 2,315.58.

A similar stall pattern was apparent last week as the major indexes finished narrowly mixed. For the week, the Dow Jones industrials were flat, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 fell 0.33 percent and the Nasdaq composite index gained 0.27 percent.

Traders also kept a close watch on crude oil prices, which slipped under $64 a barrel yesterday after the release of three foreign hostages by Nigerian militants eased concerns about supplies from the oil-rich African nation. But the volatile Nigerian situation — and nagging worries about supplies from Iran — were expected to limit the price decline.

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