Futures slightly higher as focus shifts to Fed

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U.S. stock index futures were slightly higher on Wednesday as investors focused on a Federal Reserve meeting, where the central bank is widely expected to raise interest rates for the second time in three months. The Fed is scheduled to release its latest policy statement along with updated economic forecasts at 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT). Fed Chair Janet Yellen is due to hold a press conference half an hour later. Traders have priced in more than a 90 percent chance of a 25 basis points increase, according to Fed fund futures, but the market will look for clues that could point to a more hawkish tone from the Fed. Attention is turning to whether Yellen and her colleagues will signal an even faster pace of monetary tightening this year than the current three rate hikes that it projected at the December policy meeting. The U.S. economy has been strengthening as the labor market approaches full employment and inflation improves. Markets are also betting on a potential economic boost from President Donald Trump's proposed fiscal policies.

The S&P 500 has risen 10.6 percent since the election, spurred by optimism regarding Trump's policies but the major indexes have been stuck in a tight trading range this month following a slew of hawkish comments from Fed members. U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as oil prices dropped to their lowest since November and airlines pulled industrial stocks down as a blizzard hit the U.S. Northeast. Oil prices rebounded on Wednesday, lifted by a surprise drawdown in U.S. inventories and after a monthly report from the International Energy Agency said OPEC cuts need more time to work. [O/R]

Shares of oil major Exxon (XOM. N) were up 0.8 percent at $81.67 in premarket trading. Investors will also have a host of economic data to digest before the Fed's announcement, with retail sales and consumer price index numbers expected at 8:30 a.m. ET. A reading on business inventory and home builders is scheduled at 10 a.m. ET. Twitter was down 0.8 percent to $15.20 after a number of prominent accounts on the microblogging website were hacked.

German prosecutors searching Audi offices in Germany INGOLSTADT, Germany German prosecutors searched Audi's two biggest plants and several other sites on Wednesday in connection with an emissions cheating scandal, adding to pressure on Volkswagen's luxury division and its Chief Executive Rupert Stadler.

CEO of Australia's Atlassian says he'll meet seven-day Tesla batteries deadline SYDNEY The co-founder of Australian software firm Atlassian Corp Plc said on Tuesday he was close to meeting a self-imposed one-week deadline of getting political and financial support for a plan to use batteries from Tesla Inc to bridge an electricity supply gap in South Australia.

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