Stocks rudderless in cautious trade

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U.S. stocks ended little changed Wednesday, as investors await the outcome of a crucial meeting of European Central Bank officials early Thursday and the latest U.S. employment data on Friday.

The Dow Jones industrial average edged up nearly 0.1%, while the S&P 500 lost 0.1%. The Nasdaq fell 0.2%.

Disney (DIS) led gainers on the Dow, rising nearly 3% to a new 52-week high. American Express (AXP) was the main laggard, falling more than 2%.

"We're waiting for the ECB tomorrow, and then the Fed next week," said Bernard Kavanagh, vice president of portfolio management for St. Louis-based broker Stifel Nicolaus.

Investors are expecting ECB president Mario Draghi to announce the details of a new bond-buying program for euro-area governments that agree to certain terms. The program will involve unlimited purchases of bonds, which will be "sterilized" to ease concerns about printing money, according to Bloomberg.

Meanwhile, investors are keeping a close watch on all economic numbers ahead of the Federal Reserve's Sept. 12-13 policy meeting, since the reports will likely influence the central bank's decision on whether it will announce more quantitative easing. The government is expected to report Friday that employers added 120,000 jobs in August, according to economists surveyed by CNNMoney.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke made the case for more stimulus in a speech last week, although analysts say he may come under political pressure ahead of this year's presidential election.

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World Markets: European stocks closed mixed. Britain's FTSE 100 slid 0.2%, while France's CAC 40 gained 0.2% and the DAX in Germany added 0.4%.

Asian markets closed lower Wednesday. The Shanghai Composite shed 0.3%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong dropped 1.5%, and Japan's Nikkei lost 1.1%.

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Companies: Safeway (SWY) announced plans to file for an initial public offering for its prepaid gift card business, Blackhawk Network Holdings. Shares of the California-based grocery chain rose nearly 5%.

Shares of FedEx (FDX) fell after the company said Tuesday it would cut its outlook for the quarter, citing weakness in the global economy. The news also dragged down shares of rival UPS (UPS).

The U.S. Justice Department accused BP (BP) of being "grossly negligent" in its handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, which could significantly raise the company's legal liability.

After hitting another all-time low on Tuesday, Facebook (FB) shares moved higher Wednesday after CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he will not sell his shares for a year.

U.S.-listed shares of Nokia (NOK) plunged 14% after the Finnish mobile-phone maker unveiled its latest smartphones. The new Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 both run on Windows 8, the latest version of Microsoft's (MSFT) mobile platform.

Related: Facebook's stock bounces back

Apple (AAPL) shares edged higher, after the company announced an event for Sept. 12 at which it is widely expected to introduce a new iPhone.

Economy: The Labor Department said worker productivity in the non-farm business sector increased at a 2.2% annual rate in the second quarter.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar lost ground against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil for October delivery gained 6 cents to settle at $95.36 a barrel.

Gold futures for December delivery fell $2 to end at $1,694.00 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 1.58% from 1.56% late Tuesday.

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