Equities began the day on a slightly higher note in anticipation of the latest policy statement from the Federal Reserve. The major averages spiked to session highs upon the release of the central bank's directive. However, stocks surrendered all of their gains, and the S&P 500 finished flat. As expected, the Federal Open Market Committee held its Federal Funds Rate steady at 0-0.25%. In addition, the Fed announced 'Operation Twist' will be replaced by a Treasury purchasing program with an initial rate of $45 billion per month. Also of note, the key interest rate is expected to remain at exceptionally low levels until a target unemployment rate of 6.5% is reached. In addition, the central bank has released its December projections. The outlook painted a cautious picture as the high end of its 2012 GDP growth forecast was lowered to 1.8% from 2.0%. Further, the low end of its 2013 growth expectations was reduced to 2.3% from 2.5%. Inflation expectations remain anchored and PCE inflation is not expected to exceed 2.0% over the next three years. Regarding unemployment, the Federal Reserve projects the rate to decline to 6.5% in 2015. Following the news from the Fed, Ben Bernanke spoke in front of the media. During his press conference, the Chairman said asset purchases are expected to continue until a substantial improvement in the economy is observed. He also noted that if the effectiveness of the purchasing program declines, appropriate modifications will be made. Gold miners have enjoyed a strong start to the session ahead of the Federal Reserve's policy statement. Following the central bank's announcement, mining shares firmed while gold saw little change. AngloGold (AU 30.92, +0.71) and Royal Gold (RGLD 83.64, +2.22) finished higher by 2.4% and 2.7%, respectively. Among technology stocks, Apple (AAPL 539.00, -2.39) finished lower by 0.4%. Elsewhere in the space, Coinstar (CSTR 51.96, +1.15) advanced 2.3% after Northland upgraded the stock to 'Outperform' from 'Market Perform' with a $62 price target. In addition, Coinstar provided an update regarding its joint venture with Verizon Communications (VZ 44.79, +0.35) aimed at improving the offerings at Coinstar's Redbox video rental kiosks. The two companies also announced plans to launch an online video streaming service early next year. Entering today, hard drive makers had risen steadily in recent days. However, Seagate (STX 27.75, -0.90) broke its winning streak and fell 3.1% after JP Morgan downgraded the stock to 'Underweight' from 'Neutral.' Peer Western Digital (WDC 37.86, -0.05) shed 0.1%. Coal stocks saw broad strength and the Market Vectors Coal ETF (KOL 24.90, +0.35) advanced 1.4%. The space registered gains after two major producers received upgrades from Tudor Pickering. Arch Coal (ACI 7.65, +0.16) rose 2.1% after being upgraded to 'Buy' from 'Accumulate.' Meanwhile, Alpha Natural Resources (ANR 9.36, +0.26) advanced 2.9% following the upgrade to 'Accumulate' from 'Hold.' In notable news, Molycorp (MCP 10.99, -0.34) slid 3.0% after announcing the departure of Chief Executive Officer Mark Smith. The company's Board of Directors has appointed Costantine Karayannopoulos as Interim President and Chief Executive Officer. This morning, Wal-Mart (WMT 68.94, -1.95) Chief Executive Officer made cautious comments about the ongoing holiday shopping season. Wal-Mart stock lost nearly 3.0% in reaction to the comments, and the weakness spilled over to apparel retailers. The industry has a heightened sensitivity to discretionary spending, and disappointing holiday sales would prove to be a drag on the space. Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF 46.26, -0.99), Gap (GPS 31.43, -0.39), and Foot Locker (FL 33.39, -1.24) all lost between 1.2% and 3.6%. Export prices, excluding agriculture, decreased by 0.7% in November after they had increased by 0.2% in the prior month. Excluding oil, import prices decreased by 0.2%, which follows the 0.3% increase experienced in the prior month. The November Treasury budget showed a $172.1 billion deficit, which was wider than the deficit of $172 billion expected by the Briefing.com consensus. The report has mattered little to market participants as equity indices did not respond to the news. Looking at tomorrow's economic data, weekly initial and continuing claims will be reported at 8:30 ET. In addition, November retail sales, retail sales ex-auto, PPI, and core PPI will also be released at 8:30 ET. Lastly, October business inventories will cross the wires at 10:00 ET.
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