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US stocks trade flat as investors wait on Fed, earnings
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NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stocks were little changed in late morning trading as investors waited for the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting later Wednesday. Investors were also waiting for companies to start reporting their first-quarter earnings. Alcoa, a metals company, will be one of the first major companies to report earnings after the close of the market.

Stocks gave up early gains after Reuters reported that New York Fed President William Dudley said that policy makers could still raise interest rates in June, despite the economy's slow start to the year.

KEEPING SCORE: The Standard & Poor's 500 index was unchanged at 2,076, as of 10:52 a.m. Eastern. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed seven points, or 0.1 percent, to 17,885. The Nasdaq composite gained 19 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,928.

NOTES OF A MEETING: Investors will pore over the minutes from the Federal Reserve's March meeting when they are released later Wednesday. Policy makers have hinted that they will raise interest rates later this year, if the economy strengthens sufficiently. The Fed has kept its benchmark lending rate close to zero for more than six years.

EARNINGS: Companies are set to start reporting earnings for the first quarter. Earnings per share are projected to decline by about 3 percent for S&P 500 companies, according to data from S&P Capital IQ. That would be first contraction since the third quarter of 2009, when the economy was emerging from the Great Recession.

A big slump in oil prices last year his crimped profits at energy companies and a surging dollar is hurting the earnings of big multinational corporations.

THE QUOTE: David O'Malley of Penn Mutual Asset Management, says that earnings may turn out worse than analysts are currently expecting. That's because executives will have an incentive to "get a lot of things out of the way," in the first quarter because earnings are already forecast to be negative. For example, they may decide to write down the value of assets earlier.

"The equity market is a little bit vulnerable here, especially if earnings are a bit worse," said O'Malley.

EUROPE'S DAY: Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.2 percent while France's CAC 40 dropped 0.4. Germany's DAX slipped 0.8 percent.

ENERGY DEAL: Royal Dutch Shell agreed to buy BG Group for $69.7 billion in cash and stock. Energy companies are looking to reduce costs and become more efficient in the wake of tumbling oil prices and can do that by combining businesses. Christian Stadler, associate professor of strategic management at Warwick Business School, said the deal "could be the beginning of a new wave of mega-mergers in the sector."

Shell's stock fell 7 percent in London while BG Group's soared 32 percent.

ENERGY: Oil slumped after a report showed a big increase in U.S. stockpiles. Benchmark U.S. crude fell $2.07 to $51.91 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international benchmark, slipped $1.76 to $57.34.

BONDS AND CURRENCIES: The yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed at 1.89 percent. The dollar fell to 119.95 yen from 120.30 yen Tuesday. The euro slipped to $1.0799 from $1.0823.