Futures Inch Lower as Fed Decision Looms

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U.S. stock-index futures fell slightly Thursday as traders waited to see what, if any, action the Federal Reserve will take to jumpstart the flagging American economy.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:42 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell 24 points to 13337, S&P 500 futures dipped 2.5 points to 1437 and Nasdaq 100 futures slumped 7.3 points to 2789.

The Dow is at its highest level since December 2007, helped by a pledge from the European Central Bank to take actions to stem the eurozone debt crisis and hopes the Fed will unleash more quantitative easing. The central bank's decision is due out at roughly 12:30 p.m. ET, with a news conference from Chairman Ben Bernanke following at 2:15 p.m. ET.

The U.S. added a paltry 96,000 jobs in August in the latest sign that the economy continues to struggle even years after the recession ended. As such, most analysts expect some form of easing from the Fed. However, specifically what measures the central bank might take is up for question. One option could be another round of quantitative easing, or asset purchases, frequently dubbed QE3. However, there is a rising theory that the central bank could also extend its so-called forward guidance on interesting rates, in which it would explicitly say it will keep short-term rates at historic lows for longer.

"Investors remain split in their expectations of QE so the decision can potentially lead to sharp market moves," analysts at Barclays wrote in  a note to clients.

Traders were also mulling two economic reports. The Labor Department said first-time claims for unemployment benefits jumped 15,000 to 382,000 last week. Claims were expected to rise to 370,000 from an initially reported 365,000. However, the Labor Department noted several states reported increases in claims due to Tropical Storm Isaac, resulting in about 9,000 in unadjusted terms.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices took the biggest jump since June 2009 in August. The Labor Department's gauge of producer prices climbed 1.7%, a bigger increase than the 1.1% forecast. Excluding the more volatile food and energy components, so-called core prices were up 0.2%, in line with estimates. Prices at the headline level are up 2% on the year, or 2.5% at the core level.

Commodities were little changed. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York climbed 25 cents, or 0.26%, to $97.26 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline fell 0.23% to $2.995 a gallon.

Gold price gained 40 cents, or 0.02%, to $1,734 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.5% to 2552, the English FTSE 100 rose 0.06% to 5786 and the German DAX dipped 0.29% to 7322.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 advanced 0.39% to 8995 and the Chinese Hang Seng slipped 0.14% to 20048.