By Barani Krishnan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended slight lower on Thursday after a Federal Reserve official said interest rates should rise by early 2015, while the pound gained on talk that UK rates also will go up, even as the Bank of England took only mild steps to tighten lending.
The dollar erased gains to trade flat against a basket of major currencies as foreign exchange traders discounted the remarks by the president of the St. Louis Fed, James Bullard. Bullard, in televised comments, said that raising rates by the end of the first quarter in 2015 would be appropriate, based on his forecast that U.S. growth will register 3 percent for the next four quarters.
On Wall Street, six of the 10 S&P 500 sectors finished lower.
"The market is a little bit extended, and we're at the point where there's a little bit of rebalancing going on," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co, in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
Bullard, a non-voting member of the Fed's policy-setting committee, said in an interview with Fox Business Network that the U.S. jobless rate will fall below 6 percent later this year. Inflation looked likely to rise back to 2 percent, putting the economy closer to normal than most realize, he said.
"I think Bullard caught most people off guard as the Fed meeting was just last week and there was no explicit reading anyone took from there of a Q1 rate hike," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive at New York's Sarhan Capital.
"It's very possible that he's on his own or he might have one other Fed official or a minority within the Fed who thinks we should raise rates sooner rather than later," Sarhan said.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) fell 21.38 points or 0.13 percent, to end at 16,846.13. The S&P 500 (.SPX) slipped 2.31 points, or 0.12 percent, to 1,957.22. The Nasdaq Composite (.IXIC) dipped 0.71 point, or 0.02 percent, to 4,379.05.
Financial stocks were among the sharpest decliners after a securities fraud lawsuit filed by the New York state attorney general against British bank Barclays (BARC.L). The lawsuit accuses Barclays of giving an unfair edge in the United States to high-frequency trading clients even as it claimed to be protecting other customers from such traders.
U.S.-listed Barclays shares (BCS.N) fell 7.4 percent to $14.55. The bank's London-listed shares ended down 6.5 percent.
U.S. government bond prices rose, with yields on benchmark 10-year Treasuries hitting a three-week low at 2.5322 percent.
Sterling (GBP=) rose 0.25 percent to $1.7025 as steps announced by the Bank of England to cool the UK housing market failed to dampen expectations the central bank was set to raise rates.
The U.S. dollar index (.DXY), which measures the dollar against a basket of six major currencies, was last flat at 80.222. The dollar index erased earlier gains after U.S. data suggested growth was perking up but was not robust enough to give a decisive lift to the dollar.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index (.FTEU3) of top European stocks finished down 0.1 percent at 1,370.38 points, dragged lower by the Bullard comments and the lawsuit against Barclays.
In commodities, the spot price of gold (XAU=) fell 0.2 percent to $1,316.99 an ounce.
In oil, Brent crude (LCOc1) finished down 0.7 percent at $113.21 a barrel while U.S. crude (CLc1) ended 0.8 percent lower at $105.70 after a bearish turn in the latest U.S. economic data and easing concerns of a supply disruption from the conflict in Iraq.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Graham and Jemima Kelly in London; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Leslie Adler)