May 18, 2016 / 11:37 AM / 2 years ago

US STOCKS-Futures little changed as investors await Fed minutes

* Futures down: Dow 10 pts, S&P 0.25 pts, Nasdaq 1.5 pts

By Tanya Agrawal

May 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Wednesday as investors await the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s April meeting, which could give clues on the path of rate hikes.

* The minutes is scheduled to be released at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT), and follows comments from Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan who said he will advocate for a hike in June or July. Two other Fed officials said they expect up to three rate increases this year.

* The central bank next meets on June 14-15 but chances of a hike in June are slim. Traders see the probability of a rate hike after the Fed’s November meeting at 58 percent, up from roughly 42 percent on Monday, according to the CME FedWatch tool.

* The S&P 500 is virtually unchanged for 2016. While the benchmark index has risen about 13 percent since February lows, the rally fizzled out in the last few weeks amid mixed corporate earnings and economic data.

* April data on Tuesday showed the biggest rise in U.S. consumer prices in more than three years as gasoline prices and rents rose, while other data showed housing starts and industrial production rebounded strongly.

* The strong data and a recovery in oil prices, which hit seven-month highs on Tuesday, have stoked expectations that inflation will rise further. The Fed has a 2 percent inflation rate target.

* “A barrage of comments from regional Fed presidents has forced rate markets to begin pricing more chance of Fed tightening in the coming months,” analysts from French bank BNP Paribas said in a morning note.

* Goldman Sachs on Tuesday downgraded equities to “neutral” over a 12-month time-frame on growth and valuation concerns, saying, “until we see sustained signals of growth recovery, we do not feel comfortable taking equity risk.”

* Investors will also be keeping an eye on a string of retail earnings. Shares of Staples were up 1.5 percent at $8.40 in premarket trading after the company reported higher-than-expected quarterly sales.

* Lowe’s was up 1.1 percent to $76.90 after the home improvement chain’s quarterly sales came in above expectations. Target is scheduled to report results later in the day, while Wal-Mart Stores reports on Thursday.

Futures snapshot at 7:14 a.m. ET:

* S&P 500 e-minis were down 0.25 points, or 0.01 percent, with 160,069 contracts traded.

* Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 1.5 points, or 0.03 percent, on volume of 21,253 contracts.

* Dow e-minis were down 10 points, or 0.06 percent, with 25,352 contracts changing hands. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Don Sebastian)

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