US STOCKS-Futures rise as Fed hints at gradual rate hike
* Futures up: Dow 49 pts, S&P 5.5 pts, Nasdaq 13.5 pts
By Tanya Agrawal
June 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were higher on Thursday, a day after the Federal Reserve said the U.S. economy is likely strong enough to withstand an interest rate hike later this year but lowered its economic growth forecast.
* The Fed cut its forecasts for 2015 because of a weak start to the year. Even if a majority of Fed officials continue to see higher rates by the end of 2015, they expect rates to rise slightly less by the end of 2016 and 2017 than they did in their March forecasts.
* In a press conference following the end of the Fed's two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said she wanted "more decisive evidence" that labor markets were healing, and that wages would increase beyond their current "subdued pace."
* Investors will keep a sharper eye on the data in the coming months, especially on the monthly employment data.
* Consumer price index data for May is expected to have increased 0.5 percent, compared with a 0.1 percent pace in April, while weekly jobless claims are expected to have dropped 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 275,000 in the week. Both the data points are expected at 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT).
* Separately, the Commerce Department issues current account data for the first quarter. The deficit is expected to have increased to $116.8 billion from $113.5 billion in the previous quarter.
* Greece continues to weigh on investors minds as the country drifts closer to a default. Euro zone finance ministers meet later in the day, but expectations are low that Athens and its international creditors will reach a deal to prevent the cash-strapped country from defaulting at the end of the month. Continuación...