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Here are five things you must know for Thursday, Aug. 17:

1. -- U.S. stock futures declined on Thursday, Aug. 17, as investors continued to digest signs the Federal Reserve could begin to unwind its balance sheet as soon as its next meeting. 

In minutes from its July meeting, members of the Fed's monetary policy committee said they wanted to wait for an "upcoming" meeting to begin debt reduction. Several members were ready to announce a start date at the July meeting, indicating a willingness to take the first step soon, possibly in September as many economists anticipate.

The Fed had previously said it would implement changes to its balance sheet "relatively soon," provided the economy expands as expected. The central bank currently holds $4.5 trillion in Treasuries and mortgage-related bonds, purchased to buoy U.S. growth after the financial crisis, and shedding some of them would likely tighten monetary conditions in the same way an interest-rate hike would.

Fed members also discussed concerns over inflation trends. Members said they could "afford to be patient ... in deciding when to increase the federal funds rate further" and that it was imperative to wait until "incoming information confirmed that the recent low readings on inflation were not likely to persist."

The central bank left the federal funds rate at 1% to 1.25% at that meeting, as widely expected. Another rate hike is not anticipated until at least December. Even then, chances of a year-end increase are only at 49.2%, according to CME Group fed funds futures.

"We know the Fed has a rate destination in mind, and a stated goal of three this year, but what remains to be seen is if they deliver this year or next," said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E*TRADE. "Many will be keeping a watchful eye on inflation. If we see improvement on that front, there's a good chance we'll see more action in 2017."

2. -- Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO)  declined on Thursday morning after posting a decline in quarterly profit and sales. 

Adjusted earnings dropped 3%, while revenue declined 4%. Non-GAAP profit of 61 cents a share was in-line with estimates. Revenue of $12.13 billion came in $60 million higher than estimated. Sales have fallen for the past seven straight quarters in a row. 

By segment, Cisco's core switching and routing businesses saw another quarter in decline, falling 9% year-over-year. Data center and collaboration fell 4% and 2%, respectively. 

Cisco expects further drops in sales over its first quarter. The networking tech developer anticipates a 1% to 3% decline in first-quarter revenue and earnings of 59 cents to 61 cents a share, wrapping estimates of 60 cents. 

3. -- Earnings reports from Walmart Stores (WMT) and Alibaba Group (BABA) will headline markets before the bell. 

Notable earnings out after the bell include New York & Co. (NWY) , Ross Stores (ROST) , Gap Inc. (GPS) , and Applied Materials Inc. (AMAT) . 

Retail earnings have dominated the tailend of the reporting season. Disappointing earnings from J.C. Penney (JCP) , Advanced Auto Parts Inc. (AAP) , and Coach Inc. (COH) have countered positive reports from Target Corp. (TGT) , TJX Companies Inc. (TJX) , and Home Depot Inc. (HD) .

Kohl's Corp.  (KSS) , Macy's Inc.  (M) , Ralph Lauren (RL) , Michael Kors Holdings Ltd. (KORS) , and Coach each reported declines in quarterly sales. 

Around 92% of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings so far this season. Of those, 73.7% have exceeded earnings estimates, above the historical average of 64%, according to Thomson Reuters data. More than 68% have topped revenue consensus, also above an average of 59%.

"Strong earnings continue to provide support for the stock market at elevated valuations, with the potential for more support from a reduced corporate tax rate next spring," Burt White, chief investment officer for LPL Financial, said in a note. "We believe near double-digit earnings growth is achievable this year (consensus expectations are roughly +10%) and potentially in 2018 as well."

Consumer discretionary and staples stocks have seen the slowest earnings growth, up 3.6% and 4.6%, respectively.

4. -- The economic calendar on Thursday includes the Philadelphia Fed Business Outlook Survey for August at 8:30 a.m. ET, and industrial production for July at 9:15 a.m. ET. Weekly jobless claims will be out as normal at 8:30 a.m.

5. -- President Donald Trump continued to face criticism for his response to violence in Charlottesville, VA, over the weekend, this time from the business community. 

Trump announced Wednesday afternoon that he would disband both the manufacturing council and the Strategic and Policy Forum. The former had never convened, while the latter had only met twice. Trump's hand was forced after several members of the manufacturing council resigned. His comments on the violence were interpreted as sympathetic to white supremacists after he condemned violence on "many sides."

Campbell Soup Co. (CPB) CEO Denise Morrison and 3M Co. (MMM) CEO Inge Thulin resigned from Trump's manufacturing council earlier Wednesday. Merck (MRK) CEO Ken Frazier was the first executive to exit Trump's manufacturing council, announcing his resignation on Monday morning.

Apple Inc. (AAPL) CEO Tim Cook also criticized Trump in a memo to employees. Cook described the events in Charlottesville as "repulsive" and said he disagreed with Trump over the idea that the two sides were equally to blame for the deadly clash between far-right Nazi sympathizers and those protesting against them.

"Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans," Cook wrote according to the Wall Street Journal.

"What occurred in Charlottesville has no place in our country," he wrote. "We must not witness or permit such hate and bigotry in our country, and we must be unequivocal about it. This is not about the left or the right, conservative or liberal. It is about human decency and morality."

Apple is a holding in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer and the AAP team buy or sell AAPL? Learn more now.

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