Stock Futures Waver as Investors Brace for QE Tapering

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures were wavering Wednesday as investors around the world debated the possibility of hints that the Federal Reserve could soon scale back its $85 billion a month bond-buying stimulus program in the latest release of its minutes amid some better economic data, particularly robust job gains in the cyclical sectors of the economy.

Futures for the S&P 500 were unchanged, or 1.02 points below fair value, to 1,645.5. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were rising 12 points, or 4.66 points above fair value, to 15,234. Futures for the Nasdaq were up 1 point, or 2.22 points below fair value, to 2,975.25.

Before the market open, the Mortgage Bankers Association said that mortgage application activity continued to drop in the wake of rising interest rates amid fears of less Fed support during the week ending July 5. The Market Composite Index decreased by 4% on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier.

Both American International Group ( AIG) and General Electric ( GE) shares were edging lower in premarket trading after the Financial Stability Oversight Council on Tuesday evening said that the insurer and GE's GE Capital Corp. were potential threats to the financial system and categorized them as "systemically important" firms.

Nabors Industries ( NBR) was declining by 4.37% to $15.39 after the oil services provider announced that its second-quarter earnings will likely come in below expectations amid weaker demand for its rigs and stiffer competition.

Family Dollar Stores ( FDO) was popping more than 3% to $65.90 after the retailer booked fiscal third-quarter earnings of $1.05 a share, beating expectations by two cents. The company also hiked its full-year outlook but cautioned that some customers are facing "financial headwinds."

Cliffs Natural Resources ( CLF) was surging more than 5.5% to $17.30 after company head Joseph Carrabba announced his plans to retire as president and CEO of the mining company by Dec. 31. James Kirsch, who's serving on Cliffs' board as lead director, has been elected non-executive chairman of the board effectively immediately, replacing Carrabba as chairman. Its share price action was also being influenced by BB&T Capital's upgrade of the stock to "buy" from "hold."

Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) was gaining 2.87% to $26.23 after Citigroup analysts raised their view on the stock to "buy" from "sell" and hiked their price target for Hewlett-Packard to $32 from $16, citing a positive inflection point for the company's services and the benefit of cost savings that will take place in the back half of this year.

The most important economic release so far this week will occur at 2 p.m., EDT, when the Federal Open Market Committee will issue the minutes from its June 18 to 19 meeting. Investors are expected to parse the release for any clues into the sentiment of Fed voting members regarding the tapering of stimulus and respond accordingly.

"We believe that the minutes will signal that the FOMC believes the economy warrants a process of at least stabilizing the Fed's balance sheet relative to GDP with a reduction in the bond buying program over the end of this year," Paul Donovan, global economist at UBS, said in a note.

The event will be followed, beginning at 4:10 p.m., with a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke about a century of central banking at the National Bureau of Economic Research Summer Institute in Boston. On Wednesday, investors will also be watching for whether Bernanke will reiterate hints that the Fed may start to temper its bond-buying program later this year following last Friday's upbeat nonfarm payrolls report that supported an improved outlook for the U.S. economy. However, he is still expected to maintain a relatively more dovish tone, helping to offset some of the post-FOMC nerves that have spread throughout the markets.

At 10 a.m., the Census Bureau is expected to report that wholesale inventories gained 0.3% in May after increasing 0.2% in April.

The FTSE 100 in London was falling 0.38% and the DAX in Germany was slumping 0.13%. The Hong Kong Hang Seng index closed ahead by 1.07%, while the Nikkei 225 in Japan edged down by 0.39%.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was rising 4/32, diluting the yield to 2.628%. The dollar was falling 0.26% to $84.36 according to the U.S. dollar index .

August gold futures were rising $10.10 to $1,256 an ounce, and August crude oil futures were up $1.58 to $105.11 a barrel.

Major U.S. stock markets booked a fourth consecutive session of gains Wednesday as investors were emboldened by an encouraging start to the new earning season led by Alcoa's ( AA) report Monday evening and the company's reassurances on China demand.

Written by Andrea Tse in New York

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.>.

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