By MATTHEW CRAFTAP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - Without compelling reasons to send stocks higher, investors turned their attention back to the question they have grappled with in recent weeks: when and by how much will the Federal Reserve and other central banks pull back their economic stimulus programs?
An early gain on Wall Street was gone by midday Wednesday as stock indexes drifted steadily lower. The Dow Jones industrial average gave up an early advance of 116 points and was down 63 points by midday, or 0.4 percent, at 15,055.
Markets have turned choppy in the past three weeks as traders start preparing for a time when the Fed and central banks in Europe and Japan aren't pumping as much money into the financial system.
"There's nothing concrete out there to turn us around today," Russell Croft, co-portfolio manager at the Croft Value Fund in Baltimore. "So naturally enough, people are back to thinking about the Fed."
The Dow lost 116 points Tuesday, trailing global markets that were shaken by the Bank of Japan's decision not to take new steps to spur growth in the world's third-largest economy.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell seven points, or 0.5 percent, to 1,618. The stock-market benchmark for most investment funds has lost 2.6 percent since reaching a record high on May 21. The next day, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said the central bank could decide to scale down its bond-buying program in the coming months if the economy looks strong enough.
Since then, the discussion among investors has centered on what will happen when the Fed shifts course. "'Tapering' is definitely the word of the month," Croft said. The Fed begins its next two-day policy meeting on Tuesday.
Cooper Tire & Rubber jumped $9.95, or 40 percent, to $34.51. Apollo Tyres, an Indian company, announced plans to buy the tire maker for $2.5 billion. The combined company would be one of the world's largest tire makers, Apollo said, with combined 2012 sales of $6.6 billion. Goodyear Tire also rose 72 cents, or 5 percent, to $15.33.
Gigamon soared 37 percent, gaining $7.20 to $26.15 on its first day of trading. The Milpitas, Calif.-based company, which makes equipment for computer-network traffic, raised $128 million in its initial public offering Tuesday.
The Nasdaq composite sank 18 points, or 0.5 percent, to 3,418.
In the market for U.S. government bonds, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note slipped to 2.17 percent from 2.18 percent late Tuesday.
In commodities trading, crude oil rose 90 cents to $96.30 a barrel in New York. Gold rose $15 to $1,392 an ounce.
Among other stocks making moves:
- Rambus, a designer of memory chips, rose 44 cents, or 5 percent, to $8.45 after saying late Tuesday it had resolved a decade-old patent dispute with South Korean chipmaker Hynix. Hynix will pay Rambus $240 million over the next five years.
- Ulta Salon Cosmetics & Fragrance jumped $13.53, or 16 percent. The company reported late Tuesday that its income increased 20 percent in the latest quarter as shoppers streamed into the retailer's stores and website.
- First Solar fell $1.33, or 2.5 percent, to $50.99, following news late Tuesday that the company plans to sell 8.5 million shares of stock. First Solar had 87.8 million shares on the market as of May 3, and its stock has more than quadrupled over the last year.
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