A surge at the very end of the session enabled the US equity indices to finish in the green overall, on a Tuesday dominated mainly by profit-taking against a backdrop of questions about Fed policy.

While the Dow Jones once again finished just below its previous day's closing price at 38,884, the S&P500 climbed more than 0.1% to 5210 and the Nasdaq Composite gained more than 0.3% to 16,307 at the close, after fluctuating in negative territory for several hours.

A number of senior Federal Reserve officials have recently expressed doubts about the appropriateness of monetary easing, particularly in view of the strong job market and persistent inflation in the US.

Alexandre Baradez, head of market analysis at IG France, commented: "It's hard not to see this as a concerted action to tighten financial conditions a little and send a message to the markets.

In this respect, the publication of monthly inflation figures on Wednesday could tip the balance a little more in favor of a pause in rates. As an indication, Jefferies expects the annual inflation rate to rise to 3.5% for March.

In stock news, Cisco stood out with a 3.7% gain in reaction to positive comments from Deutsche Bank, which decided to make the network equipment manufacturer's stock a "buy idea", judging its valuation to be cheap.

Conversely, American Express lost 1.9%, with the same broker now seeing limited upside potential for the credit card issuer's stock, on which he downgraded his recommendation from 'buy' to 'hold'.

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