Futures slightly higher as focus shifts to Fed

By By Tanya AgrawalMarketsReuters

U.S. stock index futures were slightly higher on Wednesday as investors focused on a Federal Reserve meeting, where the central bank is widely expected to raise interest rates for the second time in three months.

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The Fed is scheduled to release its latest policy statement along with updated economic forecasts at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT). Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference half an hour later.

Traders have priced in more than a 90 percent chance of a 25 basis points increase, according to Fed fund futures, but the market will look for clues that could point to a more hawkish tone from the Fed.

Attention is turning to whether Yellen and her colleagues will signal an even faster pace of monetary tightening this year than the current three rate hikes that it projected at the December policy meeting.

The U.S. economy has been strengthening as the labor market approaches full employment and inflation improves. Markets are also betting on a potential economic boost from President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal policies.

The S&P 500 has risen 10.6 percent since the election, spurred by optimism regarding Trump's policies but the major indexes have been stuck in a tight trading range this month following a slew of hawkish comments from Fed members.

U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as oil prices dropped to their lowest since November and airlines pulled industrial stocks down as a blizzard hit the U.S. Northeast.

Oil prices rebounded on Wednesday, lifted by a surprise drawdown in U.S. inventories and after a monthly report from the International Energy Agency said OPEC cuts need more time to work. [O/R]

Shares of oil major Exxon were up 0.8 percent at $81.67 in premarket trading.

Investors will also have a host of economic data to digest before the Fed's announcement, with retail sales and consumer price index numbers expected at 8:30 a.m. ET. A reading on business inventory and home builders is scheduled at 10 a.m. ET.

Twitter was down 0.8 percent to $15.20 after a number of prominent accounts on the microblogging website were hacked.

Futures snapshot at 7:12 a.m. ET:

Dow e-minis <1YMc1> were up 33 points, or 0.16 percent, with 7,833 contracts changing hands.

S&P 500 e-minis were up 4.75 points, or 0.2 percent, with 70,767 contracts traded.

Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 8.75 points, or 0.16 percent, on volume of 4,677 contracts.

(Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D'Silva)