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U.S. Stocks Lackluster as Rate Hike Chatter Heats Up

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Benchmark U.S. stock indices had a mixed start Thursday, with the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average poised for weekly declines and extending prior session losses. The markets were bracing for a U.S. consumer sentiment report and earlier-than-expected interest rate hikes.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was inching 0.1% lower to 16,830.07. The S&P 500 was down 0.1% to 1,955.34. The Nasdaq was up just 0.02% to 4,379.84. U.S. markets closed in the red Thursday after St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard told reporters in New York that the central bank should deliver its first federal funds rate hike at the end of the first quarter of 2015. Bullard has been among those pressing Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the central bank to move up the timeline for raising rates. "I did consider the pros and cons of moving that [target]," Bullard said. "Some of the things I'm saying today sound pretty optimistic about the economy, but we also have this negative first quarter, which was a vexing issue, and when I weighed those two I said, 'Well, maybe I'll just leave it at the end of the first quarter.'"

European markets were relatively buoyant this morning, despite falls in Asia overnight. Economic indicators showed the U.K.'s strong recovery continued -- although analysts were slightly disappointed that the Office for National Statistics did not revise its annual growth prediction of 1.7% upwards, as forecast. Asia stocks took a hit on signs of slowing industrial profit growth out of China.

The final results on the Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index for June will be published at 9:55 a.m. EDT. A Bloomberg survey of economists shows that the gauge will arrive at 82, up from the preliminary dip to 81.2, from May's final reading of 81.9.

Economic reports in store for next week include The ISM manufacturing composite index on Tuesday, factory orders on Wednesday and the June government jobs report, which was moved forward to Thursday due to the July 4 holiday weekend. Next Wednesday, Yellen is expected to speak on monetary policy to the IMF central banking conference in Washington.

Michaels (MIK), Nike (NKE), GoPro (GPRO), DuPont (DD), United Tech (UTX) and Emerson Electric (EMR) are among the companies making the headlines Friday.

The world's largest sporting goods brand Nike topped estimates in its earnings report after the close Thursday for the quarter ending May 31. Shares were rising 2.3%. Chemical maker DuPont was slipping nearly 2.5% after lowering its outlook for the second quarter and full year, blaming poor performance in its agriculture unit.

Emerson said it's evaluating strategic alternatives for its Power Transmission Solutions business and expects to announce the resulting plans for the unit by the end of 2014. Michaels, the arts and crafts specialty retailer that was taken private in 2006, begins trading Friday under the ticker "MIK". Shares of GoPro, the action-camera maker, closed up 30.6% at $31.34 Thursday on its initial day of trading. United Tech's Sikorsky unit won a $1.28 billion U.S. Air Force contract to develop four new combat search and rescue helicopters based on the design of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

-- By Andrea Tse in New York

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