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All eyes were on the Federal Reserve Wednesday as traders waited for any clues about when the central bank will begin trimming back on its bond purchases.
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As of 8:13 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell 7 points to 15235, S&P 500 futures dipped 1.5 points to 1643 and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 2.3 points to 2991.
The big day has finally arrived for Wall Street: The Fed is set to release its monetary policy decision at 2 p.m. ET, followed by a press conference from Chairman Ben Bernanke half an hour later. For weeks, traders have been obsessing over any hint about when the central bank will begin slowing down the rate at which it is buying assets. Currently, it is purchasing Treasury and mortgage-backed securities at a clip of $85 billion a month.
"We do not expect the Fed to announce a reduction in the pace of purchases on Wednesday, but we believe the committee will keep its options open for subsequent meetings," analysts at Barclays wrote to clients. "At the press conference, we expect Chairman Bernanke to reiterate that purchases may be adjusted up or down conditional on the incoming data and the Fed’s economic outlook."
Analysts at Nomura echoed that view, and also noted that Bernanke may wish to emphasize the point that a slowing of asset purchases doesn't necessarily imply tightening and that rates will likely still be kept low for years to come.
In corporate news, FedEx (NYSE:FDX) posted adjusted fiscal fourth-quarter profits of $2.13 a share, topping the Street’s view of $1.96. Sales of $11.4 billion matched expectations. The shipping giant is seen as a bellwether since it connects so many different parts of the business supply chain.
Commodities prices were also little changed ahead of the Fed decision. The benchmark U.S. crude oil contract rose 15 cents, or 0.15%, to $98.59 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rose 0.39% to $2.891 a gallon. In metals, gold climbed $5.0, or 0.42%, to $1,373 a troy once.