U.S. stocks could open higher Wednesday ahead of the publication of housing starts data, even as investors await the latest policy statement from the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conference, following the conclusion of a two-day meeting later on Wednesday.
All eyes will be on the FOMC's policy statement, scheduled to be issued at 2 p.m. EDT, which is expected to divulge a timetable for the Fed to wind down its $85 billion-a-month asset-purchase program. Analysts expect the central bank to announce a marginal reduction in its massive monetary stimulus program, beginning next month.
“We expect a small cut in the pace of monthly asset purchases, from $85bn to $75bn. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the Fed also emphasize that interest rates will remain low for a long time, perhaps via the publication of its interest rate forecasts for 2016 for the first time,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a research note.
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.28 percent, while futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were up 0.12 percent and those on the Nasdaq 100 Index were up 0.22 percent.
The prospect of the Fed winding down its bond-buying program have worried financial markets around the world since March, triggering fund outflows from emerging markets and weakening their respective currencies against the dollar. However, most analysts do not expect a sell-off in the markets even if the Fed decides on a token reduction to its stimulus program, as markets have already discounted such a move.
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“Certainly the market has priced in an increasing probability of tapering; just the fact we have the word in our vocabulary today shows the Fed has been successful in implanting it in investors’ consciousness, so that’s a policy victory for them,” Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors, told MarketWatch.
Indeed, U.S. stock markets resumed their rally on Tuesday and ended the day in positive territory, even as the Fed’s decision to “taper” loomed large.
Bernanke will address a news conference at 2.30 p.m. EDT to explain the details of its decision on reducing the bond-buying program, which has come to be known as quantitative easing, or QE, and provide the FOMC's latest quarterly economic projections.
Meanwhile, investors are also expected to keep an eye on the Census Bureau’s housing starts and building permits reports, which are due to be released before the markets open.
Housing starts, which measure the change in the annualized number of residential buildings that began construction each month, is expected to rise to 920,000 in August, from 896,000 in the previous month. Building permits, which measure the change in the number of new building permits issued by the government each month, is likely to rise to 950,000 in August, up from 943,000 in July.
“Despite increasing in July, US housing starts remain well below the level in March. However, we think that this soft patch is temporary and forecast a 2.7 percent m/m rise to 920,000 annualized in August,” Paul Diggle, an economist at Capital Economics, wrote in a research note. “Building permits certainly point to a rise in starts in the short term. More generally, there are early signs that the constraints on homebuilding are easing.”
In Europe, markets traded higher Wednesday ahead of the U.S. Fed’s decision on its asset-purchase program. The Stoxx Europe 600 index rose 0.46 percent, London’s FTSE 100 was up 0.18 percent, Germany's DAX-30 was up 0.51 percent and France's CAC-40 was trading up 0.47 percent.
Markets traded mixed in Asia, ahead of the Fed’s monetary policy decision. Japan’s Nikkei ended up 1.35 percent, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.25 percent. Shanghai Composite index ended up 0.29 percent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ended down 0.27 percent and the Philippines’ PSE Composite rallied 1.38 percent.
India’s BSE Sensex was trading up 0.47 percent in late-afternoon trade, while South Korea’s KOSPI Composite index is closed for the rest of the week due to public holidays in that country.