Wall Street opens lower as oil prices pull back

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US stocks were slightly lower in choppy trading on Thursday morning as oil prices pulled back and investors assessed a set of economic data and comments from Federal Reserve officials.

Oil prices rallied nearly 6 per cent on Wednesday following an agreement among major oil producing countries to curb output, but were down a day later as investors worried about the deal's impact on oversupply.

Investors are awaiting Fed Chair Yellen's speech in Washington and will look for hints on the timing of the next interest rate hike.

The markets have been at the mercy of every Fed deliberation as its members remain divided over whether the US economy is strong enough to absorb a rate hike in the near term.

Kansas City Fed President and voting member Esther George told CNBC that it was time to move ahead with a rate hike.

US economic growth was less sluggish in the second quarter than previously thought as gross domestic product expanded at a 1.4 per cent annual rate, compared with the prior estimate of 1.1 per cent rise.

Another report showed that the number of Americans applying for jobless claims rose less-than-expected last week.

At 9:46 a.m. ET (9:46 p.m Singapore time), the Dow Jones industrial average was down 6.88 points, or 0.04 per cent, at 18,332.36. The S&P 500 was down 2.22 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 2,169.15. The Nasdaq Composite was down 8.78 points, or 0.17 per cent, at 5,309.77. "I think you are going to get a tight-ranged choppy market,"said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital in New Jersey.

Seven of the 11 major S&P 500 sectors were lower, weighed down by healthcare, while utilities fell the most by 0.87 per cent.

The S&P 500 index showed 16 new 52-week highs and one new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 32 new highs and 12 new lows.