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Stocks fluctuated on Wednesday morning as investors stood on the sidelines until any further rate-hike clues surface.
The S&P 500 was up 0.02%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.07%, and the Nasdaq added 0.2%.
Stocks have churned over the past few sessions as new economic data is analyzed for what it means for the Federal Reserve when the central bank meets in two weeks. Fed members have recently taken a hawkish turn, shifting their tone to suggest another rate hike is warranted. However, a weaker-than-expected August jobs report and a steeper decline in services growth in the U.S. last month have reduced the chances of a rate move as soon as this month.
Stocks held slight gains through to the close on Tuesday after weaker U.S. services activity pushed back the chances of a September interest rate hike. Wall Street is pricing in a less than one-in-five chance the Fed will make a move this month, according to CME Group fed funds futures. The Nasdaq managed to close at a new record high on Tuesday.
"Officials can talk tough all they want, but a look at the fact clears up any confusion about what's going on in the U.S. economy," said Christopher Vecchio, Currency Analyst at DailyFX. "Recent evidence points to the FOMC keeping rates on hold on September, desperate for U.S. economic data to stabilize to get a ceremonial, face-saving rate hike in by December."
San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams repeated his call for gradual interest rate hikes, backing up recent hawkish comments. It "makes sense to get back to a pace of gradual rate increases, preferably sooner rather than later," Williams said Tuesday in remarks prepared for delivery to the Hayek Group, Reuters reported. Williams said the economy was in "good shape," and he forecast unemployment to fall to 4.5% in the coming year from its current level at 4.9%.
The Beige Book, out Wednesday afternoon, will present an anecdotal read on how the 12 Fed districts have fared over the last six weeks. The last Beige Book, released in the middle of July, characterized economic growth in the 12 districts as modest.
Job openings rose to an all-time high in July, the latest sign of a tightening labor market and another incentive for the Fed to make a move sooner rather than later. Openings rose to 5.9 million in July, while hires and quits also increased, according to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Higher voluntary resignations signal a labor force more comfortable quitting current jobs to pursue other opportunities.
Crude oil wavered on Wednesday with weekly domestic inventories data delayed until Thursday given the long Labor Day weekend. Prices have been in flux in recent days on speculation over a production freeze agreement from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries when members meet later this month. Major producers Russia and Saudi Arabia have shown a willingness to discuss a possible arrangement. An informal meeting will take place in Algeria at the end of the month.
West Texas Intermediate was up 0.1% to $44.89 a barrel on Wednesday.
Apple (AAPL - Get Report) was on watch ahead of its announcement set for 1 p.m. EDT. Tech pundits expect the world's largest company to unveil the iPhone 7, Apple's latest smartphone which is presumed to include a more sophisticated camera and faster processor. The iPhone, which accounts for the majority of the company's sales, is under greater scrutiny after suffering from year-over-year revenue declines over the first half of the year.
Chipotle (CMG - Get Report) rose 6% after activist investor Bill Ackman's Pershing Square disclosed a new 9.9% stake in the company. In a filing, Ackman said he believes shares are undervalued and attractive and intends to hold discussions with Chipotle's board and management to improve performance. Chipotle shares have suffered since a food-scare scandal over the past year.
HD Supply Holdings (HDS - Get Report) slid 15% after issuing disappointing forecasts for its current quarter. For its October-ending quarter, the industrial products company expects adjusted profit no higher than 82 cents a share, below consensus of 91 cents. HD Supply said preliminary results for August showed flat sales in its facilities-maintenance segment.
Delta (DAL - Get Report) climbed 6% after guiding for a $150 million decline in its September quarter pretax profit after a technology glitch caused flight delays over several days last month. The airline expects an operating margin of 18% to 19% over the quarter.
General Mills (GIS - Get Report) decreased more than 2% on conservative guidance for its first quarter. The company expects first-quarter organic net sales growth to fall below its full-year guidance range, though reiterated targets for fiscal 2017, which include net sales growth of flat to down 2%.
Dave & Buster's (PLAY - Get Report) fell 3% despite topping profit and sales estimates over its second quarter. The family-friendly chain earned 50 cents a share, 6 cents above forecasts. Revenue climbed 12.4% to $244.3 million, nudging past estimates by $1.2 million.
U.S. Silica (SLCA - Get Report) was added to Credit Suisse's U.S. Focus list on Wednesday. Estimates were also increased and a $49 price target was given. The firm expects higher expected sand demand.