Reuters

(Reuters)

Wall St Pauses Ahead of Fed Statement

Markets Reuters

Wall Street held its collective breath on Wednesday afternoon, awaiting the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve's meeting on monetary policy.

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While interest rates are expected to remain unchanged, investors will parse the Fed's commentary for clues on the path of future hikes as the economy begins to show signs of recovery.

Data on Wednesday showed underlying U.S. inflation rose more than expected in February, while the housing market continued to strengthen, bolstering the Fed's case that the economy was strong enough to withstand a gradual increase in rates.

Global markets were little changed, and the dollar rose, ahead of the Fed's statement, due at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT). Chair Janet Yellen is slated to hold a press conference at 2:30 p.m.

"We are treading water," said Kim Forrest, research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "Everyone's waiting for the language to come out from the Fed."

Economists polled by Reuters are looking at two possible rate hikes in 2016, but financial markets are pricing in only one hike of 25 basis points.

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A continued recovery in financial markets from a steep selloff earlier in the year and steadying commodity prices could also nudge the Fed towards a rate hike soon.

At 12:51 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 25.92 points, or 0.15 percent, at 17,225.61, the S&P 500 was down 2.78 points, or 0.14 percent, at 2,013.15 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 0.79 points, or 0.02 percent, at 4,729.46.

Five of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher. Gains in energy and financials were offset by losses in utilities and consumer staples sectors.

The S&P energy sector was up 0.33 percent as crude rose more than 3 percent after major producers agreed to meet next month to discuss freezing output.

In U.S. corporate news, shares of Oracle were up 3.9 percent at $40.27 after the enterprise software company's quarterly profit beat estimates.

LinkedIn was down 4.8 percent at $109.49 and Gap fell 2.9 percent to $28.86 after Morgan Stanley downgraded both stocks.

Fossil was down 6.5 percent at $43.79 after Macquarie cut its rating on the stock to "underperform."

Mallinckrodt was down 11.7 percent at $52.56, continuing its slide for a second day, while Endo International recouped some of its losses from Tuesday, rising 6.9 percent to $34.81.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,713 to 1,187. On the Nasdaq, 1,393 issues rose and 1,278 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed seven new 52-week highs and three new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 24 new highs and 43 new lows.

(Reporting by Abhiram Nandakumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Don Sebastian)