- Fed decision due at 14:00 (19:00 London time)
- Housing starts rise at fastest pace since 2008
- Ford drops on profit outlook
- Apple slips on iPhone production fears
Dow Jones: 0.35%
S&P 500: 0.15%
US markets opened mixed on Wednesday as a decent performance by housebuilders was outweighed by uncertainty caused by the upcoming Federal Reserve policy decision.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500
were both trading slightly higher in early trading, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq was being dragged lower by a heavy drop by gadget giant Apple.
The Fed, which wraps up its two-day policy meeting later on, is in focus today given rising speculation that it could announce a scaling back of its monthly $85bn bond buying programme.
The recent raft of upbeat data pointing to a recovery in the world's biggest economy has fuelled speculation that the Fed will begin tapering this month.
Expectations, however, remain finely balanced with some saying that below-par inflation will prevent the Fed from making a move this month. Consumer price index figures released during Tuesday's session showed that the rate of core inflation held steady during November as it continues to undershoot the Fed's target.
Meanwhile, according to analysts at ShareCast, there are worries in some corners over the effects that tapering might have on markets in general, and emerging markets in particular. "Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues will surely be weighing that risk when making their deliberations," they said.
The Federal Open Market Committee will release its policy statement and forecasts for economic growth, inflation and unemployment at 14:00 (19:00 London time) in Washington. Bernanke will speak shortly afterwards.
Elsewhere in the US, a report on housing starts rose more than expected to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.09m in November from 889,000 the previous month. This 22.7% gain was the fastest pace recorded since early 2008, beating the 950,000 housing starts expected by analysts.
US mortgage applications fell by 5.5% in the week to December 13th, compared to an increase of 1% the prior week, according to data from the Mortgage Bankers' Association.
Ford drops on US outlook
Auto major Ford was a heavy faller in morning trade after saying that profits will fall in 2014 due to the cost of bringing 23 new vehicle models to market - it's busiest year for new vehicle launches in history. The company said it would earn $7-8bn next year, down from an expected $8.5bn in 2013.
Tech group Apple was also registering losses after reported supplier Jabil disappointed investors with its first-quarter earnings and second-quarter guidance. Citigroup said that Jabil's guidance for a drop in sales from its diversified manufacturing services division could suggest a fall in iPhone production.
Lennar advanced as the US homebuilder reported a rise in net income in the three months through November that beat analysts' expectations. Sector peers DR Horton and PulteGroup were also higher.
Halozyme gained as the biopharmaceutical company named Helen Torley as its Chief Executive and President to replace Gregory I. Frost.
VeriFone Systems declined as the maker of credit-card terminals said it expected adjusted per-share earnings of $1.35-$1.40 this year, compared with a forecast of $1.56.