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US: Wall St opens flat as focus turns to Fed speakers


[NEW YORK] Wall Street opened little changed on Monday as investors awaited speeches by US Federal Reserve officials this week for clues on the timing of the next interest rate increase.

The Fed surprised investors when the central bank's minutes released last week opened the door to a rate hike in June, roiling financial markets.

San Francisco Fed President John Williams said on Monday that two-to-three rate hikes this year were reasonable and that inflation was on track to meet the Fed's goal of 2 per cent in the next year or two.

St Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard also said a relatively tight labour market in the United States may put upward pressure on inflation, raising the case for higher interest rates.

The probability for a June rate hike rose to 30 per cent on Friday from about 4 per cent at the start of the week, according to CME Group's FedWatch site.

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"Focus remains on the Fed's next move and as you take a look at all the economic indicators we got last week, it certainly suggests that the economy is improving," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.

"This is going to keep the market in a tight trading range."

At 9:37 am ET (1337 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average was down 16.84 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 17,484.1, the S&P 500 was down 1.75 points, or 0.09 per cent, at 2,050.57 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 8.23 points, or 0.17 per cent, at 4,777.79.

Apple's 1.3 per cent rise provided the biggest boost to the Nasdaq.

Six of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the material index's 0.83 per cent rise leading the gainers.

Monsanto rose 6.8 per cent to US$108.11 after German drugs and crop chemicals group Bayer offered to buy the US seeds company for US$62 billion in cash.

Philadelphia Fed chief Patrick Harker speaks on the economic outlook in Philadelphia at 6:30 pm ET.

This week will see Fed speakers, including Fed Chair Janet Yellen, present their views on the economy that could provide more clarity on the pace of rate hikes.

The S&P 500 eked out gains last week after three straight weeks of losses, while the Nasdaq snapped a four-week losing streak on Friday. Despite gains, the Dow ended its fourth consecutive week in the red.

Brent oil prices fell for a fourth consecutive session on Monday after Iran insisted it would not freeze crude output, returning investor attention to a global glut.

Tribune Publishing fell 12.7 per cent to US$12.42 after it rejected Gannett's latest takeover offer.

American Capital was up 2.4 per cent at US$16 after investment company Ares Capital said it would buy the company in a deal valued at US$3.4 billion. Ares was down 1.6 per cent at US$14.95.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by 1,342 to 1,240. On the Nasdaq, 1,243 issues rose and 957 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed four new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 16 new highs and five new lows.


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