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Market cautious before Fed report

Mike Yamamoto (mike.yamamoto@optionmonster.com)

U.S. stock index futures are lower this morning before the Federal Open Market Committee releases the minutes of its last meeting at 2 p.m. ET.

Traders will scrutinize the transcript for indications that the central bank will tighten monetary policy. The question is whether the Fed will begin pulling back its bond purchases despite weak economic numbers and rising interest rates.

Markets are anticipating the news with caution today, though well off their morning lows, after posting modest gains yesterday. S&P 500 futures and NDX 100 contracts are off 0.15 percent at the time of this writing but have been improving for the last hour.

European indexes are mostly negative so far today. The U.K. FTSE is down about 0.5 percent, while the German DAX is lower by 0.1 percent and France's CAC is flat.

Asian markets were mixed overnight as South Korea's Kospi lost about 1 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.7 percent. Japan's Nikkei closed higher by 0.2 percent after dropping earlier on reports that radioactive water leaks from its damaged Fukushima nuclear plant were worse than expected.

Commodities are mostly lower, with oil well below the $105 level with a 0.6 percent loss. The spot prices of gold and copper are off fractionally, while silver is flat.

The dollar is up against most other major currencies, including the Japanese yen. A weaker yen is usually positive for equities.

In earnings news, home-improvement chain Lowe's and builder Toll Brothers are trading higher after their quarterly reports, following Home Depot's strong numbers yesterday. The releases offered more positive news for the housing industry, which will see more data with the release of existing-home sales at 10 a.m. ET.

Retailer Target is slightly lower in choppy trading, while office-supply chain Staples and apparel company American Eagle Outfitters are down sharply after their quarterly numbers. Computer giant Hewlett-Packard reports earnings after the close.

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