Wall Street rises at open as energy, financial stocks gain

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street rose on Wednesday, helped by higher oil prices and gains in financial stocks ahead of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's testimony before a Congressional committee.

Ms Yellen's testimony will be watched for clues on the timing of the next interest rate hike, a week after the central bank held rates steady but suggested that a move could come later this year.

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari said the central bank could keep rates low for a while as inflation remains weak.

Investors are also awaiting comments from Fed officials including voting members Esther George, James Bullard and Loretta Mester, who will be speaking at separate events.

The S&P 500 financial sector was up 0.22 per cent and gave the biggest boost to the benchmark index, while energy rose the most by 0.7 per cent, driven by higher oil prices.

Stocks, which have rallied in the absence of an interest rate hike this year, are highly sensitive to Fed comments due to a lack of consensus among officials on the timing of future increases.

"I don't expect a major shift in Fed rhetoric, which is to make hawkish comments, but follow with dovish action," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive at Sarhan Capital. "Unless Yellen or one of the other Fed heads go way off reservation and make a statement, I don't expect massive fireworks today."

At 9:42 a.m. EDT (9:42 p.m Singapore time), the Dow Jones industrial average was up 39.86 points, or 0.22 per cent, at 18,268.16. The S&P 500 was up 3.04 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 2,162.97. The Nasdaq Composite was up 5.48 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 5,311.20.

Nine of the 11 major S&P 500 indexes were higher.

The S&P 500 index showed nine new 52-week highs and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 40 new highs and six new lows.