Updated from 6:58 a.m. ESTStocks moved sideways Tuesday, their motion restrained by a looming interest rate pronouncement from Ben Bernanke's Federal Reserve. Index futures recently showed the S&P 500 trading 2 points above fair value, while the Nasdaq 100 was set for a one-point decline. The 10-year Treasury note was down 3/32 in price to yield 4.72%, while the dollar fell against the euro and was little changed against the yen. At about 2:15 p.m. EST, the Federal Open Market Committee is expected to raise its official fed funds target by a quarter percentage point to 4.75%, the highest level in five years. The FOMC has carried out 14 consecutive quarter-point hikes over 20 months in an effort to keep inflation from seeping into a three-year-old economic recovery. Regarding the Fed's economic assessment, economists expect few changes to its Jan. 31 assertion that "some further policy firming" might be needed to keep growth and inflation balanced. Traders will be particularly interested in any signal that policymakers plan to pause their tightening campaign on May 10 at 5%. Oil prices remained high Tuesday as concerns about geopolitical restrictions on worldwide crude supplies governed sentiment. In electronic Nymex trading, crude for May delivery was recently up 34 cents to $64.50 a barrel. Overseas markets were mixed, with London's FTSE 100 recently losing 0.1% to 5969 and Germany's Xetra DAX adding 0.2% to 5923. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 0.2% overnight to 16,690, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2% to 15,857. On Monday, U.S. stocks finished mixed as strength in technology and banking shares was diluted by general lethargy in the runup to the Fed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 30 points, to 11,250, while the S&P 500 lost a point to 1302 and the Nasdaq Composite rose 3 points to 2316. In addition to the Fed news, investors will see the Conference Board's consumer confidence index for March at 10 a.m. Prognosticators expect the sentiment index to rise to 102 from 101.7 in February. To view David Peltier's video take on today's premarket action,
Among companies, Lennar ( LEN) said first-quarter earnings rose 35% from a year ago to $258 million, or $1.58 a share, beating estimates. Sales were also up 35% from last year. Lennar reiterated its full-year profit goal of $9.25 a share. Lexar ( LEXR), the flash-memory maker that recently agreed to be sold, guided first-quarter results lower Tuesday. Lexar expects to lose $22 million to $30 million in the period, wide of the consensus $17 million estimate. Tiffany ( TIF) said fourth-quarter earnings fell because of a gain in the year ago quarter. Excluding that, the jewelry retailer beat estimates by 3 cents and guided its full year in line. In early research, CIBC upped U.S. Steel ( X) to hold from sell and raised its price target by $9 to $64, while Stifel Nicolaus raised its target on Best Buy ( BBY) to $59 from $56 citing optimism about current-quarter earnings. Shares of Level 3 ( LVLT) rose after the telecom carrier raised its target for first-quarter earnings before depreciation and amortization. Level 3 expects to show $140 million to $150 million on that line in the quarter, up from its old range of $105 million to $125 million.