* Fed rate meeting on March 14-15
* Financials among top gainers; energy top drag
* U.S. crude prices hit 1-month low as inventories rise
* Dow down 0.09 pct, S&P flat, Nasdaq up 0.21 pct
(Updates to early afternoon)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
March 8 The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial
Average swung between losses and gains on Wednesday as gains in
financials following a strong private sector hiring report were
offset by declines in energy stocks.
The ADP National Employment report showed the U.S. private
sector added 298,000 jobs last month, much bigger than the
190,000 estimated by economists on average.
The robust data sets the stage for Friday's nonfarm payrolls
report, which includes private and public sector jobs and is
seen as a barometer of the U.S. economy.
Traders now price in an 87.5 percent chance of a rate
increase, up from 30 percent at the start of last week following
hawkish comments from a host of Federal Reserve officials.
The S&P 500 financial index was up 0.63 percent, led
by big banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America
and Wells Fargo.
However, the gains were offset by the more than 3 percent
decline in oil prices as U.S. crude inventories rose for the
ninth straight week.
The S&P energy sector dropped 1.7 percent. Exxon
and Chevron were the top drags on the S&P and
Declines in high-dividend paying utilities and
real estate sectors also weighed on the broader index.
The dollar gathered strength, while gold - which tends to
lose value in a rising rates environment - was lower.
"Equities are at the crossroads of optimism and concern and
are likely to go sideways until we get greater clarity from the
Fed and legislative action," said Terry Sandven, chief equity
strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis.
Wall Street's main indexes are not far from all-time highs,
driven by bets of pro-growth policies under President Donald
However, sparse details on his plans have tempered the rally
and have raised concerns on valuations.
"I think to a degree, equities are priced to perfection and
there are several indicators that point to caution," Sandven
The S&P 500 is trading at about 18 times forward earnings
estimates against the long-term average of about 15 times,
according to Thomson Reuters data.
At 12:29 p.m. ET (1729 GMT), the Dow was down 18.69
points, or 0.09 percent, at 20,906.07, the S&P 500 was
down 0.08 points, or flat, at 2,368.31.
The Nasdaq Composite was up 12.24 points, or 0.21
percent, at 5,846.17, propped up by health and technology
Caterpillar fell 1.6 percent after the New York
Times said it reviewed a report commissioned by the U.S.
government that accused the heavy equipment maker of carrying
out tax and accounting fraud.
Urban Outfitters was the biggest percentage loser
on the S&P, with a 4.8 percent decline following a sales miss
that prompted William Blair to downgrade the stock and other
brokerages to cut price targets.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,840
to 1,050. On the Nasdaq, 1,455 issues rose and 1,270 fell.
The S&P 500 index showed 13 new 52-week highs and 10 new
lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 49 new highs and 36 new lows.
(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by