Stocks barely budged Tuesday while investors awaited the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates.

While the Fed's policy committee is expected to boost interest rates again at Wednesday's meeting as another pre-emptive strike against inflation, questions remain over what signals the central bank might issue on the overall economy in its policy statement.

Robert Christian, chief investment officer at Wilmington Trust, said the market had already factored in a rate increase but was anxious about the dollar's recent decline.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 4.94, or 0.05 percent, at 10,386.37. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index slipped 0.81, or 0.07 percent, to 1,164.08, while the Nasdaq composite index was up 4.08, or 0.2 percent, at 2,043.33.

The market's unease was tempered by a strong drop in crude oil futures.

Merck was down 57 cents at $26 as the Dow's biggest decliner after disclosing late Monday that the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department were examining its handling of Vioxx.

Elsewhere in the Dow, Caterpillar was up $1.30 at $88.31 as the measure's biggest gainer, followed by Boeing, up 64 cents at $52.51.

Cisco Systems was down 22 cents at $19.75 before the technology bellwether's quarterly profit report. Earnings were in line with forecasts, but it shed another 51 cents to $19.24 in after-hours trading.

The market also was digesting other earnings news as the third-quarter reporting season entered its final stages.

Satellite TV broadcaster EchoStar Communications Corp. was up 69 cents at $30.71 after reporting that its earnings nearly tripled as the company added about 350,000 new subscribers. EchoStar also said it would pay a one-time dividend of $1 a share, or a total of $455 million, next month.

Cablevision Systems Corp. was up 46 cents at $20.49 after the Long Island, N.Y.-based cable TV provider reported a much narrower third-quarter loss than Wall Street had been expecting.

Other Indicators

* The New York Stock Exchange composite index fell 3.66, to 6886.34; the American Stock Exchange index rose 6.90, to 1326.65; and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks rose 4.56, to 606.64.

* Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones by 7 to 5 on the NYSE, where trading volume rose to 1.45 billion shares, from 1.36 billion on Monday. On the Nasdaq Stock Market, advancers outnumbered decliners by 9 to 7 and volume totaled 1.7 billion, up from 1.6 billion.

* The price of the Treasury's 10-year note fell 94 cents per $1,000 invested, and its yield rose to 4.23 percent, from 4.22 percent on Monday.

* The dollar rose against the Japanese yen and the euro. In late New York trading, a dollar bought 105.70 yen, up from 105.51 late Monday, and a euro bought $1.2903, down from $1.2911.

* Light, sweet crude oil for December delivery settled at $47.37, down $1.72, on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

* Gold for current delivery rose to $435.70 a troy ounce, from $432.70 on Monday, on the New York Mercantile Exchange's Commodity Exchange.