Stocks take a step back

Markets ease after Dow turns in second-best day ever. Investors await Fed rate decision.

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By staff

NEW YORK( -- Stocks slipped Wednesday morning as investors retreated following the previous session's massive rally and geared up for an expected rate cut from the Federal Reserve.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), the Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) all declined in the early going.

A jump in durable goods orders and better-than-expected results from Dow component Procter & Gamble took the edge off of early selling. But trading was likely to be choppy as investors awaited an announcement from the Fed at the end of its two-day policy meting.

The Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders unexpectedly jumped 0.8% in September. Economists had expected a decline of 1%, according to a consensus of projections from

Government: The Federal Reserve concludes its meeting Wednesday. Investors widely expect the central bank to slash its key lending rate to as low as 1% amid the darkening economic outlook. The policy decision is due around 2:15 p.m. ET.

On Oct. 8, Fed policymakers cut rate half a point to 1.5%.

Also, at 10 a.m. ET, the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on Capitol Hill about economic recovery, job creation and investment in America.

World markets: Optimism about interest rates and bargain hunting helped stocks leap on Tuesday. The Dow surged 889 points, or nearly 11%. It was the blue-chip index's second-biggest one-day point gain ever.

Overseas markets extended the rally. Japan's Nikkei index finished Wednesday's session up 7.7% and most European shares rallied in morning trading.

Autos: Struggling automaker General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) said that it sold more than 2.1 million vehicles worldwide in the third quarter, down 11.4% from the year-ago quarter. GM blamed weakness in the North American market, where sales plunged 18.9%. The release comes amid a debate over whether Detroit's Big Three automakers should get a bailout from the federal government. Analysts are expected a loss of $3.47 per share, according to a consensus of opinion from Thomson FirstCall.

Companies: Kraft Foods (KFT, Fortune 500) reported a nearly 20% gain in revenue to $10.5 billion, though earnings were flat at 44 cents per share, excluding certain one-time items. Aided by sales of its relatively inexpensive food products, the company barely beat analyst estimates of 43 cents per share, according to a consensus of projections from Thomson FirstCall.

Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500) reported a 9% gain in net sales growth to $22 billion, primarily from sales in its home and baby care divisions. The company reporteed a 12% gain in diluted net earnings to $1.03 per share. Analysts had expected $21.9 billion in revenue and earnings of 98 cents per share.

Insurers Prudential (PRU, Fortune 500), MetLife (MET, Fortune 500) and Hartford Financial (HIG, Fortune 500) are scheduled to release results after the closing bell.

Dollars and oil: The dollar slipped against the euro, the British pound and the yen. Oil prices surged $3.36 a barrel to $66.09. To top of page

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