US stocks flat as investors wait for fresh catalysts

US Federal Reserve in Washington, DC, on Sept17, 2015.
US Federal Reserve in Washington, DC, on Sept17, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US stock indexes were little changed on Tuesday as investors waited for more hints on interest rate hikes from Federal Reserve policymakers and the start of second-quarter earnings.

Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen starts two days of testimony on Wednesday as it prepares to unwind the massive hoard of bonds it bought to ease the financial crisis.

"We've got Yellen's testimony tomorrow, there may be a little bit of nervousness ahead of that ... the semi-annual monetary policy testimony has often been a big deal for the markets," Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida. "I think there may be some fears that she's going to come out relatively hawkish."

The Federal Reserve Board Governor Lael Brainard will speak on monetary policy on Tuesday before a conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Neel Kashkari will participate in a Town Hall question-and-answer session moderated by Bremer Bank CEO Jeanne Crain in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Oil prices fell as BNP Paribas cut its forecasts for Brent by US$9 (S$12.4) to US$51 a barrel for 2017 and by US$15 to US$48 for 2018. Barclays also cut its 2017 and 2018 Brent forecasts to US$52 a barrel.

Crude prices are about 18 per cent below their 2017 opening levels despite a deal led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to cut production from January.

The US dollar hit a four-month high against the yen and bonds and top emerging market currencies were back under pressure, on bets for higher interest rates in a small but growing group of major economies.

Investors will be looking at second-quarter earnings reports on Friday from big US banks including JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Citigroup. "My sense is you get a little bit of back and forth, no real clear sense of direction over the next several days," said Brown.

Nine of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, dragged down by losses in financials and technology sectors.

At 10:04 a.m. EDT (10:04 p.m Singapore time), the Dow Jones industrial average was down 5 points, or 0.02 per cent, at 21,403.52, the S&P 500 was down 2.84 points, or 0.116996 per cent, at 2,424.59 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 3.47 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 6,179.87.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,497 to 1,073, for a 1.40-to-1 ratio on the downside. On the Nasdaq, 1,252 issues fell and 1,206 advanced for a 1.04-to-1 ratio favoring decliners.