NEW YORK, Jan. 3 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. stocks closed lower Thursday as minutes of the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) showed that some Fed policymakers believe that ongoing asset purchases would likely last till the end of 2013.
Shortly after the opening bell, the main stock indices inched slightly down as investors locked in gains. On Wednesday, the first trading day of 2013, Wall Street surged as the U.S. Congress passed on Tuesday a bill to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff -- a combination of year-end automatic tax hikes and spending cuts, removing a major uncertainty looming over the market.
U.S. President Barack Obama has signed into law the bill to avert the budget impasse, but a new Congress taking office Thursday will still confront some structural issues such as spending cuts and debt ceiling.
Shortly afterwards, the market was partly underpinned by a jobs report released by the payroll-processing company ADP, which showed that the U.S. private sector added 215,000 jobs in December, as construction surged and businesses of all sizes hired more workers.
A separate report revealed Thursday that U.S. initial jobless claims rose 10,000 to 372,000 in the week ending Dec. 29 from previous week, which may be distorted by year-end holidays. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average of claims, a less volatile measure, rose to 360,000 from 359,750, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
In subsequent trading, the equity market bounced back, paring all earlier losses, driven by optimistic mood towards riskier assets in the New Year.
However, Wall Street dropped shortly after hawkish minutes of the Fed's December FOMC meeting was released Thursday afternoon. The minutes showed that Fed policymakers differed over how long to keep buying bonds to drive down long-term interest rates. A few members wanted quantitative easing to end by the end of 2013.
At its December meeting, the Fed announced that it would buy 85 billion U.S. dollars a month in Treasury securities and mortgage- backed securities until the job market improves substantially.
The Fed's quantitative easing (QE) policies have been a main impetus of U.S. equity surges since 2009.
Stocks-wise, shares of several major U.S. retailers jumped against the wind due to strong sales. Costco Wholesale Corp was up 1.03 percent, Nordstrom Inc up 2.98 percent, while TJX Cos Inc gained 3.15 percent and Ross Stores Inc advanced 7.97 percent.
Similarly, motor shares were boosted by an upbeat sale expectation, with GM moving up 2.37 percent and Ford gaining 1.97 percent. U.S. new vehicle registrations -- a key indicator of auto sales -- are expected to increase 6.6 percent in 2013 to 15.3 million as consumers with more access to loans and leases continue buying, according to automotive forecasting firm R.L. Polk & Co. Wednesday.
At the close of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 2.42 points, or 0.02 percent, to 13,410.13. The broader S&P 500-stock Index was up 1.15 points, or 0.08 percent, to 1,463.57. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index inched up 2.96 points, or 0. 10 percent, to 3,115.22.
Oil and gold prices were also dragged down by the Fed's minutes, coupled with a new round of concerns over the upcoming fiscal talks on spending cuts in the divided U.S. Congress.
Light, sweet crude for February delivery lost 20 cents, or 0.21 percent to settle at 92.92 dollars a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude for February delivery dropped 33 cents, or 0.29 percent to close at 112.14 dollars a barrel.
Gold futures for February delivery on the COMEX fell 0.84 percent to settle at 1,674 dollars an ounce.
The dollar surged against major currencies as QE established by Fed may end earlier than market expectations.