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US STOCKS-Wall St to open higher on Fed's 'gradual' rate-hike outlook

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* Fed signals two more rate hikes this year * Nasdaq hits record high on Wednesday * February housing starts rise more than expected * Futures up: Dow 59 pts, S&P 2.75 pts, Nasdaq 9.5 pts (Adds details, comments, updates prices) By Yashaswini Swamynathan March 16 (Reuters) – U.S. stocks looked set to open higheron Thursday, building on a day-earlier rally after the FederalReserve raised interest rates for the first time this year andindicated it was in no hurry to increase the pace of tightening. The central bank on Wednesday raised rates by a quarterpoint to 0.75-1.00 percent, nodding to the continued strengthin the labor market and a pick up in inflation. However, the Fed stuck to its outlook for two more ratehikes this year and three more in 2018. Shares of big U.S.banks, which slipped on the less hawkish-than-expected stance onWednesday, were up between 0.5 and 1.5 percent in premarkettrading. “A less aggressive Fed was clearly the message the marketswanted to hear and indeed acted accordingly,” Peter Cardillo,chief market economist at First Standard Financial wrote in anote. “The Fed’s plan to stick to three rate hikes gave the greenlight for investors to focus on economic and corporate growth.” Backing Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s optimism on the economy, areport from the Commerce Department showed homebuilding jumpedin February as unseasonably warm weather boosted construction ofsingle-family houses. Moreover, the number of Americans filing for unemploymentbenefits fell last week, pointing to a further tightening in thelabor market, according to a report from the Labor Department. Dow e-minis were up 59 points, or 0.28 percent at8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT), with 7,893 contracts changing hands. S&P 500 e-minis were up 2.75 points, or 0.12 percent,with 53,199 contracts traded. Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 9.5 points, or 0.18percent, on volume of 6,104 contracts. On Wednesday, Wall Street scored solid gains and the NasdaqComposite index hit an all-time high. Shares of Tesla rose 2.8 percent to $262.94 afterthe electric carmaker said it would raise about $1.15 billion asthe company speeds up the launch of its Model 3 sedan. Biogen was off 2.6 percent to $285.13 after MorganStanley and Leerink downgraded the drugmaker’s stock and cutprice targets. Johnson Controls was up 1.4 percent after agreeingto sell its safety gear business to 3M for $2.0 billion. (Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing byAnil D’Silva & Shri Navaratnam)

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