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US STOCKS-S&P 500 ends higher after choppy session ahead of Fed

(For a Reuters live blog on U.S., UK and European stock markets, click LIVE/ or type LIVE/ in a news window) (Recasts with close of trading, adds analyst comment, market details)

By Devik Jain and Echo Wang

May 3 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 Index ended higher on Tuesday after a choppy session in which each of the major indexes fluctuated between gains and losses as a key meeting of the Federal Reserve got under way.

Investors picked up shares of financials and technology companies ahead of Wednesday's expected announcement by the Fed.

Eight of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors rose, with energy and financials leading the gains.

The U.S. central bank kicked off its two-day policy meeting on Tuesday. Traders see a 99.9% chance of a 50 basis-point hike on Wednesday, according to CME's FedWatch Tool https://www.cmegroup.com/tools-information/quikstrike/treasury-watch.html, which would mark the largest rate hike by the Fed since May 2000.

The spotlight stays on Fed Chair Jerome Powell's news conference on Wednesday for comments on the future path of interest rates and balance-sheet reduction.

“The number one driver of all the market volatility over the last several months has been the Fed and the Fed hawkish rhetoric, so getting an update from them at a Powell press conference (on Wednesday) is a major catalyst and I think the market now is kind of just in waiting mode,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategist at Baird in Louisville, Kentucky.

In April, Wall Street was hammered by uncertainty around the Fed's ability to engineer a soft landing for the economy, mixed earnings from some big growth companies, the war in Ukraine and pandemic-related lockdowns in China.

The Nasdaq Composite slumped nearly 13.3% last month, its worst monthly performance since October 2008 as richly valued high-growth stocks came under pressure from rising rates.

The indexes reflected boosts by stocks including Apple Inc , Tesla Inc and Exxon Mobil Corp.

According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 gained 20.04 points, or 0.48%, to end at 4,175.42 points, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 25.99 points, or 0.21%, to 12,562.01. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 56.27 points, or 0.17%, to 33,117.77.

Estee Lauder Cos Inc slumped after the cosmetics maker cut its full-year profit forecast due to fresh COVID-19 restrictions in China and the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc slid after the hotel operator forecast a bleak full-year profit.

Western Digital Corp was among the largest percentage gainers on the S&P 500 after activist investor Elliott Investment Management urged the company to separate its Flash business and offered to invest $1 billion to facilitate a sale or a spin-off of the business. (Reporting by Echo Wang in New York and Devik Jain in Bengaluru Editing by Anil D'Silva and Matthew Lewis)