Wall Street flat before Greek deal talks; Apple lifts Nasdaq

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday as investors looked to a meeting of euro zone finance ministers for clues on the tone of negotiations to deal with Greece’s debt crisis.

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis headed for a showdown at a meeting scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. after his new leftist-led government won a parliamentary confidence vote for its refusal to extend an international bailout.

The chairman of the meeting, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said talks will likely be inconclusive.

“We all know what the big problem is – if the Greeks exit, so can others and that would throw this whole EU thing into disarray,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

The benchmark S&P index <.SPX> rose to its highest level of the year on Tuesday on hopes negotiations would result in a deal that could help stabilize the euro zone. The index is down slightly more than 1 percent from its record high on Dec. 29.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> fell 40.43 points, or 0.23 percent, to 17,828.33, the S&P 500 <.SPX> lost 0.2 points, or 0.01 percent, to 2,068.39 and the Nasdaq Composite <.IXIC> added 18.63 points, or 0.39 percent, to 4,806.28.

PepsiCo <PEP.N> rose 2 percent to $ 99.96 after the maker of soft drinks and Tropicana beverages reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit and said it would buy back shares worth up to $ 12 billion by 2018.

Despite some high-profile earnings misses from large multinational companies, largely as a result of dollar strength, Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning showed 72.4 percent of the 352 S&P 500 components that have reported earnings topped expectations, above the 69 percent beat rate in the past four quarters. The earnings growth rate for the quarter stands at 6.7 percent.

Apple Inc <AAPL.O> will buy about $ 850 million of power from a First Solar <FSLR.O> plant in California to cut its energy bill and power the company’s campus, offices and stores in the state.

Apple shares, up 1.5 percent at $ 123.91, helped push the Nasdaq higher, while First Solar added 1.1 percent to $ 49.07.

Rite Aid <RAD.N> jumped 10.6 percent to $ 8.38. The drugstore operator said it would buy privately-held pharmacy benefit manager EnvisionRx for about $ 2 billion.

Pier 1 Imports <PIR.N> plunged 24.6 percent to $ 12.79 after the furniture retailer cut its 2015 profit forecast, citing weak January and February sales.

After the closing bell, earnings are expected from Applied Materials <AMAT.O>, Cisco Systems <CSCO.O>, TripAdvisor <TRIP.O> and Whole Foods Market <WFM.O>.

Decliners outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,699 to 1,211, for a 1.40-to-1 ratio; on the Nasdaq, 1,248 issues fell and 1,247 advanced, for a 1.00-to-1 ratio.

The S&P 500 posted 30 new 52-week highs and 1 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 55 new highs and 31 new lows.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Zieminski)

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