Stock futures are flat ahead of key Fed decision

Markets

U.S. stock futures were steady in overnight trading on Tuesday as investors readied for Wednesday's highly anticipated Federal Reserve decision.

Dow futures rose 15 points. S&P 500 futures were flat and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 0.03%.

On Tuesday, the major averages slipped, exacerbated by selling in software names like Microsoft and Adobe. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 106 points. The S&P 500 fell 0.75%.

The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite was the relative underperformer, dipping 1.1% as Facebook-parent Meta Platforms, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet all closed lower.

Also hurting sentiment Tuesday was the hotter-than-expected inflation reading for November's producer price index showing a year-over-year increase of 9.6%, the fastest pace on record. This was above the 9.2% expected by economists, according to Dow Jones. The index rose 0.8% month over month, above the 0.5% expected.

The Fed will conclude its two-day policy meeting on Wednesday and the public will hear from central bank Chair Jerome Powell at a 2:30 p.m. ET press conference.

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The Fed is grappling with the highest levels of inflation in 39 years and the central bank is widely expected to announce an acceleration of the tapering of its bond-buying program, which was put in place during the pandemic to prop up the economy.

This sets the stage for a dramatic policy shift that will clear the way for a first interest rate hike next year.

A CNBC Fed Survey predicts the Fed will double the pace of the taper to $30 billion at its December meeting, which would roughly end the $120 billion in monthly asset purchases by March. The central bank will then hike rates three times in each of the next two years, starting in June 2022, the survey respondents predict.

"While the chairman is not likely to suggest any specific timeframe for when the funds rate will begin to be lifted, he probably will confirm that some members do want to move more quickly than previously announced in raising interest rates," said Jim Paulsen, chief investment strategist for Leuthold Group.

"I would not expect the Fed to say much that is not already anticipated by the financial markets," Paulsen added. "Some of the recent stock market volatility may lessen after this two-day meeting and its press conference is finally concluded."

While the Fed meeting is in focus, investors are also monitoring the new Covid variant omicron. The World Health Organization on Tuesday warned the new Covid-19 omicron variant is spreading faster than any previous strain, and is likely in most countries of the world.

November's retail sales data is slated to release at 8:30 a.m. ET on Wednesday. Economists polled by Dow Jones are expecting that retail sales rose 0.8% in November, compared to October's growth of 1.7%, according to the Commerce Department.

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