Wall Street flat after GDP shock, Fed awaited

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By Rodrigo Campos | January 31, 2013 4:14 AM EST

Stocks were little changed on Wednesday as data showing the economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter was offset by positive parts of the report and strong results from Boeing Co and Amazon.com Inc.

Economists stressed that the 0.1 percent contraction in U.S. gross domestic product, caused partly by a plunge in government spending and lower business inventories, is not an indicator of recession.

"Inventories came down and that subtraction is actually positive for the private sector," said Jim Russell, chief equity strategist for U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Cincinnati.

"A lot of the important components going forth are there, like consumption by individuals and capital spending, and they are looking strong."

Wall Street opened slightly higher despite the GDP data, with traders awaiting a statement from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday after its two-day policy-setting meeting. The Fed is expected to keep monetary policy on a steady, accommodative path, though debate continues over when it should curtail its bond-buying program.

The S&P 500 held above 1,500, seen by market technicians as an inflection point that will determine the overall direction in the near term. The index is on track to post its best month since October 2011 and its best January since 1997.

"This is a very modest pullback after a steep run," said Paul Zemsky, head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management in New York.

"It is too soon for the Fed to start talking about the end of (their bond buying program); the economy needs stimulus to sustain this recovery."

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 3.7 points or 0.03 percent, to 13,950.72, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 0.96 point or 0.06 percent, to 1,506.88 and the Nasdaq composite <.IXIC> added 4.9 points or 0.16 percent, to 3,158.55.

Both Boeing and Amazon shares gained after earnings beat expectations, continuing a trend this quarter of high-profile names advancing after results.

Amazon rose 6.1 percent to $276.28 and Boeing rose 1.2 percent to $74.53.

Thomson Reuters data showed that of the 192 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings this season 68.8 percent have been above analyst expectations, which is a higher proportion than over the past four quarters and above the average since 1994.

Chesapeake Energy rose 5.4 percent to $19.99 a day after it said Aubrey McClendon would step down as chief executive. The last year has been marked by civil and criminal probes into the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer.

Research In Motion shares fell 4.4 percent to $14.97 after the company, which is changing its name to BlackBerry, unveiled a long-delayed line of smartphones in hopes of a comeback into a market it once dominated.

Giving the market extra support, private sector employment topped forecasts with the ADP National Employment report showing 192,000 jobs added in January, higher than the 165,000 expectation.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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