* Fed minutes scheduled to be released at 2 p.m. ET
* Fed fund futures steady at 83 pct odds of June rate hike
* Lowe’s and Tiffany drop on disappointing results
* Indexes up: Dow 0.15 pct, S&P 0.06 pct, Nasdaq 0.15 pct (Updates to early afternoon)
By Tanya Agrawal
May 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were modestly higher early on Wednesday afternoon, aiming for a fifth straight day of gains, ahead of the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting that could cement the chances of a widely expected interest rate hike next month.
U.S. interest rates futures were steady ahead of the minutes, due at 2 p.m. ET (1600 GMT). Fed funds futures implied traders priced in about an 83 percent chance of a rate hike in June, little changed from Tuesday’s close.
Investors are also awaiting more details regarding the Fed trimming its $4.5 trillion balance sheet.
“The real take from the Fed is that a June rate hike still seems to pretty much baked in the cake, but I’m going to be looking at guidance as how they expect to start spending down their excess assets,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial in Waltham, Massachusetts.
While recent economic data has been mixed, with signs of a dip in consumer sentiment and spending, the job market continues to strengthen. That could give the Fed impetus to continue with its path of monetary tightening.
At 13:02 a.m. ET (1702 GMT) the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 31.98 points, or 0.15 percent, at 20,969.89, the S&P 500 was up 1.51 points, or 0.06 percent, at 2,399.93 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 9.51 points, or 0.15 percent, at 6,148.23.
Seven of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were higher, led by the materials index’s 0.63 percent rise.
Energy fell 0.49 percent after oil prices retreated on a smaller-than-expected draw in U.S. gasoline stocks as investors await the outcome of a meet between OPEC and other oil-exporting countries on whether to extend output cuts.
General Electric was off 1.8 percent and was the biggest drag on the S&P after the company said its profit forecast was at the high end of expectations.
The retail sector continued to issue disappointing results.
Lowe’s dropped 3.1 percent after the home improvement chain reported a lower-than-expected profit and comparable sales.
Jewelry retailer Tiffany sank 7.9 percent after posting a surprise drop in comparable sales. Signet Jewelers , which reports on Thursday, was down 7.2 percent. The two were the biggest losers on the S&P.
At the other end was Intuit, which jumped 7.5 percent after the tax-preparation software maker posted a profit topped estimates and also raised its revenue forecast.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,431 to 1,404. On the Nasdaq, 1,413 issues fell and 1,313 advanced.
The S&P 500 index showed 39 new 52-week highs and 10 new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 76 new highs and 45 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza)