U.S. equity markets were lower overnight following the release of Federal Reserve minutes which showed only a few members of the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee favored a new round of quantitative easing.
By the close the Dow Jones was off 97 points to 12,781, with the NASDAQ easing 16 points to 2916.
In the minutes of the last Federal Open Market Committee meeting, other members of the rate-setting body indicated that what markets call QE3 "could" become necessary if the economy lost momentum or if inflation seemed likely to remain below the 2% target for a long time.
Wednesday, a highly anticipated meeting of eurozone finance ministers was canceled, as the head of the group, Jean-Claude Juncker, said that more work needed to be done between Greece and its bailout partners. A conference call would be held instead of the meeting.
Debt-stricken Greece needs the 130 billion euro bailout in order to make a 14.5 billion euro bond payment in March, and avoid a messy default. The country's latest economic reform proposal, which was approved by Greece's Parliament earlier this week, in order to secure these funds needs to be approved by eurozone finance ministers.
There were also reports Wednesday that the debt bailout could now be delayed until after Athens holds elections in April - news of which was enough to bring down investor sentiment.
In corporate news, teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF/Abercrombie-&-Fitch/" class="companyPopupTrigger" rel="4875">NYSE:ANF) said Wednesday fourth-quarter profits declined due to higher markdowns, store closures and weakened margins, but provided a full-year earnings guidance ahead of market expectations.
Social gaming company Zynga (NASDAQ:ZNGA) reported better than expected fourth-quarter earnings that beat estimates but analysts were concerned that player acquisition has slowed down. Shares sunk over 14%.
Dr Pepper Snapple Group (NYSE:DPS) posted better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings helped by higher prices and a favourable mix, amid rising packaging costs and the impact of lower sales volume.
Devon Energy (NYSE:DVN) saw its fourth quarter results beat Street estimates on Wednesday, as its proved reserves rose to record levels. Adjusted for certain one-time items, profits rose to $628 million, or $1.55 per share. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected just $1.48 per share in earnings.
Revenues for the quarter hiked 21.1 percent to $2.59 billion, from $2.14 billion in the same period last year, largely on a 24.1 percent hike in oil, gas, and natural gas liquids (NGLs) sales to $2.14 billion.
Kellogg Co. (NYSE:K) said Wednesday it will pay $2.7 bilion in cash to buy the Pringles potato chip brand from Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE:PG). The breakfast cereal giant said Pringles offers an "excellent strategic fit" with its business. Kellogg said the deal will add 8 cents to 10 cents per share to its projected 2012 earnings, after breaking out transaction costs.
Deere & Co. (NYSE:DE) said Wednesday that strong equipment sales boosted fiscal first-quarter earnings as the company raised its outlook for 2012.
Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) said Wednesday its fourth quarter profits increased 26 percent, largely on the strength of its internet and business services segments.
After-the-bell reports today include the latest numbers from Agilent (NYSE:A), CBS (NYSE:CBS), Marriott (NYSE:MAR), NetApp (NASDAQ:NTAP), and Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA).
In economic news, the Empire Manufacturing survey rose to 19.5 in February, from 13.5 the previous month. Analysts were expecting the survey to come in at 14.0.
Industrial production was flat in January, compared to a 1% rise the previous month. Analysts were expecting production to rise by 0.6%.
In NYMEX futures trading, crude for March delivery rose $1.00 to $101.74 a barrel while gold futures for April delivery gained $14.20 to $1,731.90 an ounce.
European markets finished mixed as of the most recent closing prices. The DAX gained 0.44% and the CAC 40 rose 0.44%, while Britain's FTSE 100 lost 0.13%.
The overall euro-zone economy shrank for the first time in more than two years in the fourth quarter of 2011, but the 0.3% decline was better than economists expected. German GDP saw a smaller-than-expected drop, while France saw growth.