Wall Street ends flat as investors assess U.S. rates outlook

September 7, 2016 7:36 AM EDT

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., August 31, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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By Caroline Valetkevitch

(Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended little changed on Wednesday, though the Nasdaq eked out another record high close, as investors assessed the outlook for U.S. interest rates.

A disappointing forecast from Sprouts Farmers Market (NASDAQ: SFM) weighed on grocers. Sprouts shares were down 13.7 percent at $19.68, while Whole Foods (NASDAQ: WFM) shares fell 5.3 percent to $29.08 and Kroger (NYSE: KR) shares dropped 4.1 percent to $31.32.

Investors have been weighing the likelihood of a rate hike this month from the Federal Reserve, with recent economic data including last Friday's weaker-than-expected jobs report suggesting the U.S. central bank could hold off for now.

The Fed said on Wednesday afternoon in its Beige Book report of anecdotal information that the U.S. economy expanded at a modest pace in July and August, but there was little sign that wage pressures are being felt beyond highly skilled jobs.

"Follow-through from last week's OK-but-not-tremendous employment number is sending the lower-for-longer interest rate message out there to people coming back from vacation," said Peter Tuz, president of Chase Investment Counsel in Charlottesville, Virginia.

European Central Bank policymakers meet on Thursday, when they are expected to keep policy unchanged.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 11.98 points, or 0.06 percent, to 18,526.14, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 0.33 points, or 0.02 percent, to 2,186.15 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 8.02 points, or 0.15 percent, to 5,283.93, a record high close.

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) shares were up 0.6 percent at $108.36, after the biggest company by market value unveiled its new iPhone.

Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG), which is struggling to revive sales following a series of food-borne illness outbreaks, gained 5.9 percent to $438.45 after William Ackman's Pershing Square Capital Management disclosed a 9.9 percent stake in the chain. Ackman could shake up the company's leadership.

Among other gainers, U.S. airline stocks jumped after Delta Air (NYSE: DAL) said sales trends were improving and Southwest (NYSE: LUV) said it would slow its breakneck growth of flights in 2017. Delta's stock rose 5.6 percent while Southwest gained 4.7 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.68-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.52-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 28 new 52-week highs and 1 new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 153 new highs and 25 new lows.

About 6.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 6.0 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

(Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Meredith Mazzilli)

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