updated 8/10/2004 7:21:31 AM ET 2004-08-10T11:21:31

Wall Street trudged through a listless session Monday, closing narrowly mixed as oil prices edged closer to $45 per barrel and investors hoped for assurance from the Federal Reserve that the economy was still on track.

Major Market Indices

Trading was very light in advance of Tuesday’s Fed meeting, at which the Open Market Committee will decide whether to raise baseline interest rates by a quarter percentage point to 1.5 percent. While the move had been widely expected before last week, a recent string of bad news has left Wall Street wondering whether the Fed will — or should — raise rates.

“Tomorrow is going to be key. We’re going to look very carefully at what the Fed has to say,” said Russ Koesterich, U.S. equity strategist at State Street Corp. in Boston. “Until then, there’s no real conviction in trading. You’re seeing some bargain hunting, but we’re not seeing the signs of a true bottom here.”

Even the bargain hunters couldn’t withstand the overall pessimism of the market, as a wave of late-session selling erased the market’s modest gains from early in the session. Investors were particularly concerned with oil prices, which climbed once again as Russian oil giant Yukos encountered fresh problems. A barrel of light crude was quoted at $44.84, up 89 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Prices hit a new record high at $44.98 earlier in the session.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.67, or 0.01 percent, to 9,814.66.

Broader stock indicators were narrowly mixed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 1.25, or 0.1 percent, at 1,065.22, and the Nasdaq composite index lost 2.25, or 0.1 percent, to 1,774.64.

The markets sold off heavily last week as oil prices climbed to new highs and the government reported a paltry 32,000 jobs created in July. The combination left investors concerned that inflation might take hold in an economy that threatens to slow down considerably.

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The latest economic news didn’t help with forecasts, either. The government reported Monday that wholesale inventories rose 1.1 percent in June. Wall Street had been expecting a 0.6 percent rise for the month. While the inventory figure shows strong industrial productivity, it also raises questions on whether supply may soon outpace a reduced consumer demand.

Despite these latest concerns, however, many analysts expect the Fed to proceed with the rate hike and reaffirm its current position of a moderate but steady climb in interest rates.

“The Fed has put so much effort in the same consistent message, I’d be surprised if they said something out of character,” said Jeff Kleintop, chief investment strategist for PNC Financial Services Group in Philadelphia. “They’re going to stick to a measured pace, and yes, they’ll probably acknowledge the softness in the labor market. But they’ll go ahead as planned.”

Charter Communications Inc. slipped a penny to $3.07 after posting a loss of $1.35 per share for the quarter. The media company assumed new pre-tax losses that it previously applied to a subsidiary.

Cablevision Systems Corp. swung to a loss in the second quarter due to investment losses and poor performance in its satellite and cinema divisions. The company did improve its outlook, however. Cablevision fell 46 cents to $16.68.

McDonald’s Corp. was down 18 cents at $26.16 despite posting a 6.4 percent rise in same-store sales in July, crediting the boost on better menu options for healthy eating and better service.

Citigroup gained 28 cents to $43.47 after announcing the purchase of Knight Trading Group Inc.’s derivatives business for $225 million in cash. Knight was up 47 cents at $8.76.

Decliners barely outnumbered advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where preliminary consolidated volume came to 1.32 billion shares, compared with 1.81 billion on Friday.

The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies was down 1.27, or 0.2 percent, at 518.38.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.6 percent. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 closed down 0.5 percent, France’s CAC-40 dropped 0.9 percent for the session and Germany’s DAX index tumbled 1 percent.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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