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Stocks Cautious on Eve of Fed Meeting as Apple Reports

Tickers in this article: AAPL DNDN JCP MRK ^DJI ^GSPC ^IXIC

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - Markets finished little changed on Monday as investors await the latest decisions by the policy-making arm of the Federal Reserve, which is scheduled to begin two days of meetings tomorrow.

The S&P 500   added 0.13% to close at 1,762.11 while the  Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped 0.01% to 15,568.93 and the  Nasdaq lost 0.08% to 3,940.13.

"It's just kind of a ho-hum day, but that's not a bad thing all the time just given the run we've had recently," Matt McGeary, portfolio manager at Eagle Asset Management, said in a phone interview. "You can't be up 1% every day." McGeary said Eagle Asset, which has $29.8 billion in assets under management, has viewed this quarter as a "reasonably good" earnings season.

Apple  shares tacked on 0.74% to $529.88 ahead of the company's quarter earnings announcement after the closing bell, injecting some strength in the markets following disappointing quarterly reports from U.S. drug maker  Merck  and on factory output and pending home sales. Merck lost 2.6% to close at $45.35 after missing revenue expectations. Sales fell 4 percent to $11 billion due to a foreign currency exchange hit and patent expirations. Consensus expectations were for $11.12 billion in revenue.

"Markets are overbought after a good run and investors are still nervous about earnings," Raymond James chief investment strategist Jeffrey Saut said in a phone interview. But he noted about 64% of S&P/500 companies had beaten earnings expectations and suggested investors would pay little attention to economic reports in the coming six weeks due to the one-off impact from the partial government shutdown. Saut helps oversee $400 billion in assets.

For the third quarter, analysts on average are expecting S&P 500 earnings to increase 4.5% year-over-year, with EPS of $27.23, Christine Short, a senior manager at S&P Capital IQ, wrote in a daily report. Short's note also shows that analysts are anticipating that nine sectors will post earnings growth in the third quarter, with the telecom and consumer discretionary sectors leading the growth at 27.48% and 12.28% respectively. The sector expected to become biggest laggard of this quarter is energy, with a contraction of 7.49%.

Guidance for the fourth quarter has been provided by 57 companies. Of those companies, 45 are negative in their guidance, 8 are positive and 4 are in-line, according to Short.

In company news, JCPenney was the largest gainer in the S&P 500 after the company announced that it sees positive comparable store sales for the third and fourth quarter of 2013. Shares of the department store company jumped 8.8% to close at $7.39.

Shares of Roper Industries sank the most in the S&P after the Sarasota, Fla.-based company reduced its 2013 earnings per share to $5.57 to $5.63 from $5.72 to $5.86 on slower-than-anticipated fourth-quarter growth in energy and select other markets. Shares sank 6.6% to $124.26.