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Stocks hold steady on Federal Reserve announcement

Stocks held near record levels Wednesday after wavering in response to the latest economic assessments by the Federal Reserve. July was still the best month for stocks since January.

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The U.S. economy expanded at an annual rate of 1.7 percent from April through June as businesses spent more and the federal government cut less spending, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists had expected growth of 1 percent for the period, according to the data provider FactSet.

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U.S. businesses created a healthy 200,000 jobs this month, payroll company ADP said, as companies hired at the fastest pace since December. ADP also raised its estimate of the number of jobs the private sector created in June.

On the bond market, investors anticipated that the Fed's slightly weaker assessment of the economy would imply a longer period of bond purchases. Bond yields fell as demand increased for U.S. government debt. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.58 percent from 2.66 percent just before the announcement.

Investors were also tracking company earnings.

Comcast rose $2.21, or 5.2 percent, to $44.89 after the parent company of the NBC network and Universal Studios reported earnings and revenue that exceed analysts' expectations in the second quarter.

Software company Symantec, which makes the Norton antivirus software, surged after the company reported earnings and revenue that beat analysts' forecasts. The stock rose $2.21, or 9.1 percent, to $26.55.

Analysts are currently forecasting that second-quarter earnings rose an average of 4.75 percent for S&P 500 companies, according to S&P Capital IQ. That would be the slowest rate of growth in three quarters.

In commodities trading, the price of oil rose $1.95, or 1.9 percent, to $105.03 a barrel. Gold dropped $11.80, or 1 percent, to $1,313 an ounce.

Among other stocks making big moves:

— Air Products & Chemicals rose $3.46, or 3.3 percent, to $109 after the Wall Street journal reported that activist investor William Ackman had bought a 9.8 percent stake in the gas company.

Herbalife rose $5.21, or 8.7 percent, to $65.25 after CNBC reported that the veteran hedge fund investor George Soros had taken a stake in the company. Herbalife has been at the center of a battle between investors Ackman and Carl Ichan, who are taking opposing positions in the stock.

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