U.S. Stocks Set To Open Lower Ahead Of Fed Rate Decision

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks are set to trade lower at Thursday's opening, ahead of a Federal Reserve monetary decision that is widely expected to leave the overnight rate steady at 5.25%, with Intel Corp. a likely standout thanks to an upgrade.

The futures contract for the Dow Jones Industrial Average last was down 23 points at 13,497.

Futures contracts for the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq 100 last were off 2.4 points at 1,516.50 and down 0.5 point at 1,955.

On Wednesday, a softening of bond yields following a sharper-than-expected fall in durable-goods orders led to a rise in stocks. The, Dow Jones industrials closed up 90 points, the Nasdaq Composite up 31 points and the S&P 500 rising 13 points.

On Thursday the market's attention turns to the Fed decision, due at 2.15 p.m. Eastern.

"We are looking for a mixed opening as investors await the Federal Open Market Committee results," said Peter Cardillo, chief U.S. economist at Avalon Partners. "The statement is likely to be a repeat of the previous one, with inflation still likely to be the main concern of the fed."

The final revision to first-quarter gross domestic product showed both growth and inflation as being a bit above economists' estimates. However, Cardillo described the report as "a non-event" for the market as its contents were broadly in line with expectations.

The Commerce Department reported the economy grew at a 0.7% real annual pace in the first three months of the year, the slowest growth in four years, but above a prior estimate of 0.6%. Economists polled by MarketWatch were expecting a revision to 0.8%. The report is a final revision.

Personal consumption expenditures rose by 3.5%.

Initial jobless claims in the latest week fell by 13,000 to 313,000, according to the Labor Department. The four-week average of new claims rose by 1,000 to 316,000.

Stocks in motion

Intel Corp. last was 1.5% higher at $24.15 in premarket electronic trade. Lehman Brothers upgraded the stock to overweight from equal weight and predicted its second-quarter sales will reach the top end of its internal forecast.

Monsanto Co. reported a sharp increase in third-quarter earnings to $570 million or $1.03 a share from $334 million, or 60 cents a share, citing a strong agricultural season. On an adjusted basis, earnings beat expectations. The stock rose 1% to $66.62 before the opening.

Credit card giant Capital One Financial Corp. will cut about 2,000 jobs as part of its efforts to reduce expenses by $700 million in the next two years. The share advanced 2.8% to $81 before the bell.

Bed Bath & Beyond late Wednesday lowered its earnings and sales forecast and said the overall retail environment is "challenging." The stock was off 4.5% at $35.86 before the bell.

Novellus Systems Inc. last was off 2.8% at $29.05 before the opening. The company expects second-quarter revenue and earnings at the low end of the guidance it has previously provided, as it anticipates weakening demand in the semiconductor equipment industry. It's cutting executive salaries for the rest of the year and planning shutdowns.

Other markets

Treasury prices gave up their gains, pushing yields lower, after the latest GDP revision hinted that inflation is stronger than was believed. Inflation puts pressure on the Fed to keep rates higher and eats into the value of bonds.

The 10-year Treasury note last was down 2/32 at 95-14/32 with a yield of 5.095%.

However, the report was positive for the dollar, whose proponents would like to see higher rates to increase the currency's attractiveness against its major rivals. The euro last trade at $1.3462, down from $1.3471 before the report, while the dollar stood at 123.03 yen, up from 122.88 before the news.

Commodities were trending higher in the early going, as crude continued to benefit from news on Wednesday thashowed a decline in inventories of gasoline.

The August crude futures contract last was up 0.7% at $69.49 a barrel, as the front-month gold contract gained 0.6% to $649 an ounce.

By Leslie Wines