Wall Street opens flat after US data rises odds of rate hike

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US stocks were little changed on Wednesday, although the Dow and the Nasdaq managed to eke out record intraday highs, as investors assessed a spate of strong economic data and awaited Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's testimony.

Ms Yellen's testimony before the House Financial Services Committee started at 10:00 a.m. ET (11.00 p.m Singapore time) and comes a day after she said delaying a rate hike would be unwise, without indicating when the Fed would pull the trigger.

Her testimony will be scrutinized for further clues on when the central bank might move, as will be comments by three Fed presidents at other scheduled appearances. Some Fed officials have said it would be prudent to move sooner than later.

Also boosting the odds of a rate hike were strong reports that showed retail sales rose much more than expected last month, while the consumer price index notched its biggest rise in nearly four years as households paid more for gasoline and other goods.

After the data, traders raised the odds of a hike in March to 26.6 per cent from the 13.3 per cent odds priced in before the data was released.

Financial stocks, which benefit in a higher rate environment, again led the gainers among the 11 major S&P sectors with a 0.2 per cent gain.

Ms Yellen on Tuesday, before the US Senate Banking Committee, painted a largely upbeat picture of the economy, but also expressed uncertainty over economic policy under the Trump administration.

At 9:40 a.m. ET (10.40 pm Singapore time), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 20.25 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 20,524.66 and the S&P 500 was down 1.31 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 2,336.27.

The Nasdaq Composite was down 0.02 points, or flat, at 5,782.55, easing from an all-time high of 5,785.39.

Six of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, led by interest rate-sensitive utilities and real estate sectors.