US STOCKS-S&P 500 ends down as markets whipsaw ahead of Fed meeting

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By Stephen Culp

NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Wall Street gyrated in afternoon trading to close lower with interest rate sensitive tech stocks weighing most heavily as uncertainties surrounding an increasingly hawkish Federal Reserve and rising geopolitical tensions contributed to the market's churn.

In a pattern similar to Monday, U.S. stocks whipsawed between steep losses and modest gains. Equities ended well off session lows, where the S&P 500 flirted once again with confirming a correction.

All three major U.S. stock indexes closed lower.

If the bellwether index closed 10% or more below its record high reached on Jan 3, it would have confirmed it entered a correction on that date. It ended the session 9.2% below that level.

"We're floating along this arbitrary 10% line, and investors are asking. 'Is it time to protect my capital by selling or is it time to buy the dip?'," said Tom Martin, senior portfolio manager at GLOBALT in Atlanta. "And between yesterday with downward and upward movement you have this battle between the two." According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 lost 54.05 points, or 1.23%, to end at 4,356.08 points, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 311.35 points, or 2.26%, to 13,543.78. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 54.31 points, or 0.16%, to 34,310.19.

The members of the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC) convene on Tuesday for their two-day monetary policy meeting. Market participants on Wednesday will scrutinize the statement at the meeting's conclusion, along with Chairman Jerome Powell's subsequent Q&A session, for clarity regarding the central bank's timeline for hiking key interest rates to combat inflation.

"Certainly, the economic data of late shows some weakening," Martin added. "You would think there might be a more dovish message from the Fed."

Geopolitical tensions are adding to investor uncertainty, with NATO putting forces on standby and the United States putting troops on heightened alert in response to a buildup of Russian forces along Ukraine border.

Those tensions prompted a rise in crude oil prices on concerns over tightening supply, which in turn gave energy companies a solid boost.

Energy was the top gainer among the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500.

The fourth-quarter reporting season is in full-stride, with 79 of the companies in the S&P 500 having reported. Of those, 81% have delivered better-than-expected results, according to Refinitiv. But there have been notable misses, such as Netflix .

Analysts now see aggregate S&P 500 earnings growth of 24.1% for the October-December period, per Refinitiv.

General Electric Co dropped after the industrial conglomerate, weighed down by global supply disruptions, reported a decline quarterly revenue.

IBM (IBM) advanced following its quarterly revenue beat on strength in its cloud and consulting businesses.

American Express (AXP) gained in the wake of exceeding fourth-quarter profit estimates, sending the consumer credit company's stock higher, while Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) closed higher following its announcement that it expects a jump of as much as 46% in 2022 vaccine sales.

Microsoft (MSFT) is expected to post earnings shortly. (Reporting by Stephen Culp; additional reporting by Bansari Mayur Kamdar and Devik Jain in Bengaluru; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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