US STOCKS-Futures ease as caution prevails ahead of inflation data

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Futures down: Dow 0.32%, S&P 0.27%, Nasdaq 0.25%

Feb 29 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures dipped on Thursday as investors refrained from making big bets ahead of key inflation data that could hold the key to the timing of interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index - the Fed's preferred inflation gauge - is due to be released at 8:30 a.m. ET (1330 GMT).

The data is expected to show prices ticked 0.3% higher on a monthly basis in January. The core figure, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, is also expected to increase month-on-month.

Reports on consumer and producer prices earlier in February, which signaled sticky inflation as well as a guarded approach from Fed policymakers, led investors to push back expectations of rate cuts to June.

At the beginning of this year, traders were betting on March as the starting point for the Fed's easing cycle.

"A higher-than-anticipated (PCE) reading could put the final nail in the coffin of the idea of a pivot to rate cuts before the summer," AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould wrote in a note.

Equities have struggled to make headway this week ahead of the PCE data, given lack of any major market-moving catalysts.

Still, all three major Wall Street indexes are on track for their fourth straight monthly advance, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq in the lead, thanks to robust quarterly earnings and a stellar rally driven by optimism around artificial intelligence (AI).

Meanwhile, Democratic and Republican leaders in the U.S. Congress on Wednesday announced they had reached a deal that could avert government shutdowns on Saturday.

At 5:20 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 126 points, or 0.32%, S&P 500 e-minis were down 13.5 points, or 0.27%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 44.25 points, or 0.25%.

Salesforce shed 1.8% in premarket trading after projecting annual revenue below analysts' estimates, while Snowflake slumped 22.9% after the cloud data analytics company forecast first-quarter product revenue below Wall Street estimates.

Shares of Paramount Global climbed 4.7% as the media conglomerate posted a surprise profit on streaming gains.

Boeing slipped 1% after a report said the U.S. Department of Justice is scrutinizing the planemaker's door plug blowout last month.

AMC Entertainment dropped 8.2% after the theater chain posted a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss on higher distribution costs for Taylor Swift and Beyonce concert movies.

WW International slumped 23.7% after the weight-loss services firm said director Oprah Winfrey decided not to stand for re-election at the company's upcoming annual shareholder meeting. (Reporting by Amruta Khandekar; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

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