U.S. stocks: Futures slip as investors digest Fed minutes

U.S. stock futures slipped on Thursday, as investors continued to digest the prior day’s Federal Reserve minutes, which showed policy makers are split on the timing of the first rate hike.

Market participants were also gearing up for more earnings after aluminum giant Alcoa late Wednesday unofficially kicked off the first-quarter result season on a downbeat note.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average YMM5, -0.11%  fell 35 points, or 0.2%, to 17,794, while those for the S&P 500 index ESM5, -0.16%  lost 4.65 points, or 0.2%, to 2,071.25. Futures for the Nasdaq 100 NQM5, -0.18%  dropped 11.75 points, or 0.3%, to 4,363.00.

The indexes started to move lower during the European session, but have since pared back from their intraday lows.

FOMC reaction: “I think we could continue to see futures waver ahead of the open with it being such a data light session and the FOMC minutes not inspiring any significant movement,” said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at forex broker Oanda, in emailed comments.

The record from the Federal Open Market Committee’s March meeting, released on Wednesday, showed several members supported a June rate hike, but also that others thought a rate hike wouldn’t be warranted until later in the year as low oil prices and the strong dollar would likely hold inflation down. U.S. stock markets ended the Wednesday session slightly higher after the minutes.

“What has been taken as dovish FOMC minutes didn’t really shed any new light on the path for interest rates. June has looked unlikely for a while now and any month beyond that will depend on the data,” Erlam said.

Data: Two data releases on Thursday could help shed light on the health of the U.S. economy. Weekly jobless claims are due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, and are expected to show that 285,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week. That would be an increase from the almost 15-year low of 268,000 recorded the week before.

At 10 a.m., wholesale inventories for February are on tap.

There were no Fed speakers listed for Thursday.

Market Watch

Craig Erlam
Based in London, England, Craig Erlam joined OANDA in 2015 as a Market Analyst. With more than five years' experience as a financial market analyst and trader, he focuses on both fundamental and technical analysis while conducting macroeconomic commentary. He has been published by The Financial Times, Reuters, the BBC and The Telegraph, and he also appears regularly as a guest commentator on Bloomberg TV, CNBC, FOX Business and BNN. Craig holds a full membership to the Society of Technical Analysts and he is recognized as a Certified Financial Technician by the International Federation of Technical Analysts.