By Caroline Valetkevitch
(Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended slightly higher on Wednesday after minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting showed voting members divided over whether to raise interest rates soon.
While policymakers agree that more economic data is needed before raising rates, some expect a hike will be needed soon, according to the minutes from the U.S. central bank's July 26-27 policy meeting.
On Tuesday, stocks slipped after New York Fed President William Dudley said a rate hike as soon as September was possible given evidence of wage gains.
Shares of utilities, which tend to outperform in lower-rate environment, added to gains following the minutes. The S&P utility index ended up 1.5 percent in its largest daily percentage gain since the end of June.
Losses in retailers including Target and Lowe's Companies following disappointing forecasts limited the day's gains, along with Cisco.
Wall Street has been trading at record highs in the past few weeks, partly supported by expectations the Fed will continue to keep rates low.
"Despite their willingness and desire to raise rates, they haven't gotten cooperation from the economy yet," said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.
"The fear of the market is that they may raise at the wrong time."
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 21.92 points, or 0.12 percent, to 18,573.94, the S&P 500 had gained 4.07 points, or 0.19 percent, to 2,182.22 and the Nasdaq Composite had added 1.55 points, or 0.03 percent, to 5,228.66.
The Fed left rates unchanged at its last meeting in July but said near-term risks to the economy had diminished, leaving the door open for a possible rate hike this year.
Investors expect more insight on the rate outlook at an annual meeting of central bankers from around the world in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, next week.
Shares of Target were down 6.4 percent while Lowe's was down 5.6 percent after they cut full-year earnings forecasts.
Cisco fell 1.3 percent to $30.72 after technology news site CRN reported the company is laying off employees.
After the bell, Cisco edged even lower following its results and its announcement to lay off 5,500 employees, or nearly 7 percent of its work force.
Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.10-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.43-to-1 ratio favored decliners.
The S&P 500 posted eight new 52-week highs and one new low; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 56 new highs and 23 new lows.
About 6.4 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, in line with the 6.4 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
(Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and James Dalgleish)