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U.S. stocks slip at close, stabilizing a day after sell-off

NEW YORK - U.S. stock indexes closed slightly lower Wednesday, stabilizing a day after their biggest sell-off in two months.

NEW YORK - U.S. stock indexes closed slightly lower Wednesday, stabilizing a day after their biggest sell-off in two months.

With no obvious catalyst pushing them either way, indexes spent most of the day wavering between slight gains and losses. Investors are waiting for clues from a Federal Reserve meeting Wednesday as to when it may start increasing interest rates. The prospect of higher rates and a surge in the dollar have been weighing on markets since indexes hit record highs last week.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 27.55 points, or 0.16 percent, to close at 17,635.39. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 3.92 points, or 0.19 percent, to 2,040.24. Both indexes are down now about 1 percent in 2015.

The Nasdaq composite fell 9.85 points, or 0.2 percent, to 4,849.94. The Nasdaq is up 2.4 percent this year.

The odds of the Fed raising rates appeared to rise Friday after the U.S. government reported a burst in hiring last month. A rate increase would be the first in nine years. Low rates and other monetary stimulus have helped the S&P 500 to triple in price since the bull market began six years ago.

A U.S. interest rate rise would come as Japan and Europe are struggling to grow and China's expansion slows.

On Wednesday, China's official news agency reported that output in the world's second-biggest economy rose 6.8 percent in the first two months of the year, less than expected.

China is expected to slow further after growing 7.4 percent last year, the slowest rate in nearly a quarter-century.

David Lebovitz, Global Market Strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management, thinks interest rate fears are overblown. "I think a couple of months after the Fed hikes, the market will be higher," he said.

As the Fed is poised to raise rates, the European Central Bank is trying to lower them. The divergent policies are hammering the euro and sending the dollar higher. On Wednesday, the euro fell to $1.0550, its lowest level since April 2003.

Apple fell $2.27, or 1.8 percent, to $122.24 after its iTunes and app stores suffered a rare outage, frustrating millions of users around the world. Earlier in the week, Apple announced new details about its Apple Watch and MacBook products.

Southwest Airlines rose 90 cents, or 2 percent, to $43.84. The airline said that its flights were more crowded and that a key revenue figure increased in February compared with a year earlier.

In oil trading, the price of benchmark U.S. crude fell 12 cents to close at $48.17 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose $1.15 to close at $57.54 a barrel in London.

In other futures trading on the NYMEX, natural gas rose 9.2 cents to close at $2.824 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In the bond market, U.S. government bond prices rose, pushing yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.11 percent from 2.13 percent on Tuesday.

Precious and industrial metals futures closed lower. Gold fell $9.50 to $1,150.60 an ounce, silver fell 27 cents to $15.37 an ounce, and copper fell two cents to $2.61 a pound.