U.S. stocks creep higher as Federal Reserve meeting starts

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks inched higher Tuesday in another cautious day of trading as investors kept an eye on central banks in the U.S. and Japan. Health care and household goods companies led the way while energy companies slipped.

Major market indexes were higher all day, but returned most of those gains at the close of trading. They rose just enough cancel out Monday’s small losses.

Drug companies helped health care stocks make some modest gains, while Exxon Mobil fell on reports it’s being investigated by securities regulators. Bond yields slipped and the dollar was little changed as investors waited decisions from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan.

Since investors doubt the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates Wednesday, they may focus instead on the Fed’s statement and a press conference led by Fed Chair Janet Yellen.

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“The Fed, until they raise rates, are going to be the primary focus of the markets,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “The only reason people may take their eye off of that is the election.”

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 9.79 points, or 0.1 percent, to 18,129.96. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index added 0.64 points to 2,139.76. The Nasdaq composite picked up 6.33 points, or 0.1 percent, to 5,241.35.

On the New York Stock Exchange, more stocks fell than rose. That was the reverse of Monday, when major indexes fell but more stocks were up than down.

Tuesday was the start of two-day meetings for the Fed and Bank of Japan. While investors didn’t expect an increase in U.S. interest rates, the Japanese central bank is expected to take new steps to boost the nation’s ailing economy. That could include an increase in its stimulus program or a further cut in the deposit rate as a way to encourage banks to lend money.

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Gilead Sciences gained $2.79, or 3.5 percent, to $81.78 after the hepatitis C drugmaker completed a $5 billion debt offering. Gilead said it may use the cash to make a deal, and Jefferies & Co. analyst Brian Abrahams said he thinks the company is getting close to at least one acquisition. Elsewhere, Merck rose 61 cents, or 1 percent, to $61.94.

Ascena Retail Group, the parent of Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant and Dress Barn, dropped to a six-year low after the company reported weak quarterly results and gave a forecast that fell short of investor expectations. Ascena bought Ann Taylor a year ago and also struggled with discounts from competitors and shaky demand. Its stock lost $2.43, or 29.9 percent, to $5.69.

Allergan, the maker of Botox, announced yet another acquisition as it agreed to buy Tobira Therapeutics. Tobira is studying drugs that treat symptoms of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a disease that triggers inflammation that can lead to cirrhosis, cancer and liver failure.

Tobira stock has tumbled this year after it reported mixed results from a mid-stage trial of one of its drugs. The shares finished at $4.74 on Monday, but Allergan agreed to pay $28.35 per share upfront, and could pay another $49.84 if Tobira’s drugs succeed in clinical testing, win regulatory approved, and meet sales targets.

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Tobira shares skyrocketed to $38.91 and Allergan fell $6.62, or 2.7 percent, to $238.67.

The Commerce Department said the pace of home construction slowed down in August as fewer homes were built in the South. Monthly housing figures can be volatile and housing starts have grown this year, but the report hurt shares of homebuilders. PulteGroup gave up 58 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $19.29 and Lennar, which reported strong quarterly results, shed $1.59, or 3.5 percent, to $43.50.

Hotel chains Marriott and Starwood climbed after regulators in China approved the $14.41 billion deal that will bring them together to create the world’s largest hotel chain. Marriott, which is buying Starwood, said it expects to complete the deal Friday. Its stock added $1.60, or 2.3 percent, to $69.94 and Starwood rose $1.81, or 2.4 percent, to $76.90.

Royal Caribbean Cruises added $2.93, or 4.5 percent, to $68.41 after the company raised its quarterly dividend to 48 cents from 37.5 cents.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.69 percent from 1.71 percent. The dollar rose to 101.84 yen from 101.81 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1157 from $1.1178.

Benchmark U.S. crude picked up 14 cents to $43.44 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, slipped 7 cents to $45.88 a barrel in London. Exxon Mobil lost $1.29, or 1.5 percent, to $82.54 after Dow Jones reported that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating Exxon’s accounting practices and other issues.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline sank 6 cents, or 4 percent, to $1.36 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1 cent to $1.41 a gallon. Natural gas jumped 11 cents, or 3.9 percent, to $3.05 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold gained 40 cents to $1,318.20 an ounce. Silver lost 1 cent to $19.28 an ounce. Copper added 1 cent to $2.17 a pound.

France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.1 percent while Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 percent. In Britain, the FTSE 100 index was 0.3 percent higher. Tokyo’s benchmark Nikkei 225 closed down 0.2 percent and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.5 percent. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong dipped 0.1 percent.