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The close: Stocks end two-day rally Add to ...

Stocks ended lower on Thursday, ending a two-day rally that included the biggest jump in about a year by the S&P 500 on Wednesday.

The S&P 500 closed at 1459.37, down 3.05 points or 0.2 per cent. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average closed at 13,391.36, down 21.19 points or 0.2 per cent. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index closed at 12,470.44, down 70.33 points or 0.6 per cent.

In the afternoon, the Federal Reserve released the minutes from its last monetary policy meeting. Some economists believe the minutes suggest a reluctance to continue buying assets – a stimulative move known as quantitative easing – throughout the year.

“The key takeaway...is that Fed officials might end quantitative easing sooner than the markets were expecting, triggering a rise in Treasury yields and the dollar,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, in a note.

The economic backdrop was mixed. The ADP report on U.S. private sector employment showed gains of 215,000 in December, well above expectations for job gains of 140,000.

The report arrives a day before the much-anticipated official payrolls report from the U.S. Labor Department on Friday morning. Right now, economists are expecting the report to show job gains of 151,000 and a steady unemployment rate of 7.7 per cent.

Meanwhile, U.S. jobless claims for the period ended last week rose to 372,000, up from 350,000 in the previous week.

Family Dollar Stores slumped 13 per cent after reporting disappointing quarterly results and reducing its outlook.

Other U.S. retailers were mixed following the release of December sales that reflected a less-generous consumer during the holiday season.

Costco Wholesale Corp. rose 1 per cent after reporting that sales at existing stores rose 8 per cent, which was ahead of expectations. Gap Inc. rose 2.3 per cent after reporting sales growth of 5 per cent.

However, Wet Seal fell 1.8 per cent and Limited Brands Inc. fell 5.7 per cent after reporting disappointing sales.

Google Inc. rose less than 0.1 per cent, retreating from a stronger gain earlier in the day, even as the Federal Trade Commission ended its two-year-old anti-trust probe by ruling largely in favour of Google. The FTC supported the company’s argument that it favours its own products and services in search results “to improve the user experience.”

Key commodities retreated. Gold fell to $1,674.60 (U.S.) an ounce, down $14.20. Crude oil fell to $92.92 a barrel, down 20 cents.

Among Canadian commodity producers, Barrick Gold Corp. fell 2.9 per cent – with most of the decline following the release of Fed minutes. Suncor Energy Inc. rose less than 0.1 per cent.

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