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Stocks drop after Fed holds off on slowing stimulus package

Stocks declined on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 halting a four-day record run, after the Federal Reserve decided to hold off on reducing its monetary stimulus.

"We've been up so many days in a row, you set a record every day, it's not surprising people decided to take some profits," said JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago.

As expected, the central bank opted to maintain its $85-billion-a-month bond-purchasing program amid softer readings on the U.S. economy. "Available data suggest that household spending and business fixed investment advanced, while the recovery in the housing sector slowed somewhat in recent months," the Federal Open Market Committee statement said.

"Much ado about nothing and as such, one must infer that the Fed believes current market expectations are appropriate," emailed Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG Global.

The Fed will likely start curbing its monetary easing in April 2014, according to the latest CNBC survey of economists, strategists and money managers. There will be no press briefing with Chairman Ben Bernanke this month.

"It seems the Fed is recycling its statements because the status quo remains, without a single clue as to when it will taper its current bond buying program," said Todd Schoenberger, managing partner at LandColt Capital.

"However, considering the macro data released since the previous meeting has been moderately weak and not expected to improve over the next couple of quarters, it's appropriate to predict the Fed will stay with the current $85 billion per month bond purchase program," he said. "It's clear the catalyst needed to even discuss tapering again will have to come from significant improvement in the labor market."

At its session low, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day 61 points lower, at 15,618.71. The index had hit an intraday high of 15,721 early on. Home Depot led the Dow gainers, while Verizon slid.

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq also declined after the S&P 500 earlier had hit an intraday record of 1,775.23.

The yield on the 10-year note used in determining mortgage rates and other consumer loans rose 2 basis points to 2.54 percent.

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), a gauge of investor uncertainty, climbed above 14.

Among the S&P's 10 major sectors, telecoms led declines, while utilities fared best.

"We've had a tremendous run in the face of marginally good news," said Art Hogan, managing director at Lazard Capital Markets. "But we'll need a new catalyst…we're going to spend at least a month with either old or tainted data following the government shutdown and the clean numbers will come in November."

On the economic front, the ADP employment report for October found 130,000 jobs were created in the private sector. That was the lowest reading since April and was below expectations for a gain of 150,000 jobs.

Plus, the delayed CPI (consumer price index) for September had inflation up 0.2 percent. The benign inflation reading continues to "give license to the Fed to focus more so on employment. That said, in an environment of very little income growth, modest inflation should be cheered not jeered," Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at the Lindsey Group, said in e-mailed commentary.

Among earnings, General Motors stock rallied more than 3 percent after the car manufacturer reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit. 

Western Union tumbled nearly 12 percent after the money-transfer company reported a 20-percent decline in earnings, due to lower revenue from its consumer business and higher expenses. At least seven brokerages slashed their price targets on the firm.

"We've had a slightly higher number of companies beat earnings per share, and on revenue, but the amount by which they beat has been less," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.