Markets set to open flat as rate hike looms

March 13, 2017 08:49 AM

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a subdued open on the financial market as investors bided time ahead of an all-but-certain interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve. 

The Federal Open Market Committee, the central bank's policy-setting board, is expected to lift interest rates by a quarter point to 0.75 %-1.00 % after a two-day meeting that starts on Tuesday.

A blowout monthly jobs number on Friday underscored the strength of the U.S. labor market and the ability of the economy to absorb a rate hike.

Traders have placed a 94 % bet that Fed Chair Janet Yellen will announce an increase on Wednesday.

Investors will closely watch Yellen's comments for clues on whether the central bank could get more aggressive on rates as the economy shows signs of improvement.

"Right now the markets appears to be in a wait-and-see phase ahead of the Fed decision," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

Dow e-minis were up 10 points, or 0.05 % at 8:30 a.m. ET (1330 GMT), with 5,538 contracts changing hands.

S&P 500 e-minis were up 0.75 points, or 0.03 %, with 101,937 contracts traded.

Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 0.75 points, or 0.01 %, on volume of 6,491 contracts.

The dollar, which tends to strengthen as rates climb, was up for the first time in three days, but prices of safe-haven gold also rose due to uncertainty ahead of elections in Europe.

The financial market ended higher on Friday, but the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq snapped a six-week winning streak as worries about valuations and the lack of detail on President Donald Trump's policy proposals threw a wrinkle in a post-election rally.

"We're at a point where no one wants to walk into the dark room first. Even though a rate hike is a known factor, there is still some uncertainty as to whether the economy is going to do what the market has been betting on," Bakhos said.

Oil prices could keep the market under pressure on Monday, as U.S. crude hit a more than three-month low of $48.31 on rising inventories.

Shares of Mobileye jumped 31.3 % to $62.06 in heavy premarket trading after chipmaker Intel agreed to buy the driverless technology maker for about $15.3 billion. Intel's shares were down 1.6 %.

Nutritional supplements maker Herbalife rose 3.2 % to $53.95 after Carl Icahn raised its stake to 24.57%.

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