US Stock Futures Signal Higher Open Ahead Of Fed Meeting

  on March 20 2013 4:45 AM

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wednesday ahead of the conclusion of the Federal Reserve's two-day policy meeting.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.09 percent, futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were up 0.27 percent and those on the Nasdaq 100 Index were up 0.50 percent.

Investors are likely to focus on the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) two-day meeting, which concludes Wednesday. The FOMC statement, the primary tool used by the panel to communicate with investors about its monetary policy, is due to be released at 2:00 p.m. EDT followed by Bernanke’s press conference at 2:30 p.m. EDT.

Analysts believe that the February FOMC meeting will not result in any material changes to the Fed’s current $85 billion monthly asset purchase program despite recent improvement in labor market conditions and growing concerns over the costs of its ultra-loose monetary policy.

The interest rate is expected to remain unchanged at 0.25 percent. The Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at historic lows in the range between 0 percent and 0.25 percent in an attempt to increase consumer demand and business operations by making borrowing cheaper.

“We expect the Fed Chairman to reiterate the FOMC’s support for an extended period of highly accommodative policy, while continuing to carefully monitor the risk/ benefit profile of its balance sheet policies. We do not anticipate any hints, suggesting near-term plans to curb the asset purchase program,” a note from Credit Agricole said.

Meanwhile, the Cypriot parliament's decision to reject a bank deposit tax designed to save the country from bankruptcy stoked fresh concerns about the euro zone debt crisis and will continue to weigh on markets.

International lenders over the weekend had agreed to hand the cash-strapped island nation a bailout worth 10 billion euros ($13.1 billion) but demanded Cyprus' bank customers pay as much as 10 percent of their deposits as a tax. Not a single MP voted in favor of the bill, raising concerns that even a more progressive bank levy proposal than the one voted down would have little chance of approval.

U.S. stock markets ended mixed on Tuesday as Cyprus concerns were offset by better-than-expected U.S. housing data and the ECB’s commitment to offer liquidity to the island nation within existing rules. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.03 percent, the S&P 500 Index was down 0.24 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index fell 0.26 percent.

Data released Tuesday by the U.S. Commerce Department showed that housing starts, which measure the change in the annualized number of residential buildings that began construction each month, rose 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 917,000 units in February, while building permits jumped 4.6 percent to 946,000, their highest level since June 2008.

European stock markets were trading higher, with Germany's DAX30 gaining 0.6 percent, France's CAC 40 advancing 0.7 percent and London's FTSE 100 gaining 0.4 percent.

Asian stock markets were mixed on Wednesday. Japan’s Nikkei slumped 2.71 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.97 percent and China's Shanghai Composite surged 2.66 percent, while India’s BSE Sensex slipped 0.51 percent and South Korea’s KOSPI Composite declined 0.97 percent.

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