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Futures flat despite upbeat GDP, private sector employment report

Wednesday, 31 Jul 2013 | 8:51 AM ET

U.S. stock index futures were flat Wednesday after a pair of better-than-expected economic reports and as investors looked ahead to the release of the Federal Reserve's policy statement later this afternoon.

On the economic front, U.S. economic growth unexpectedly accelerated in the second quarter, with the GDP growing at a 1.7 percent annual rate, up from the first-quarter's downwardly revised 1.1 percent expansion pace, according to the Commerce Department. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the economy growing at a 1.0 percent pace.

And private employers added 200,000 jobs in July, topping economists' expectations in an encouraging sign for the labor market recovery. Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 180,000 jobs.

Meanwhile, U.S. labor costs rose 0.5 percent in the second quarter, according to the Labor Department. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a gain of 0.4 percent.

The Fed is expected to maintain its accommodative monetary policy, but investors will be looking for hints on when the central bank might start scaling back its monthly bond-buying program. Chairman Ben Bernanke will issue a statement at 2 p.m. ET, after the meeting ends.

"Given that expectations of a gradual tapering of stimulus prompted a downward spiral in May, it is no surprise that investors are anxious and will be looking for some reassurance and consistency in the Fed's message on monetary policy," said Andy McLevey, head of dealing at stockbroker Interactive Investor.

Facebook briefly poked above its May 2012 initial public offering price of $38 a share in pre-market trading, fueled by positive momentum following the company's better-than-expected earnings and a new program aimed at helping small and mid-size developers distribute their games.

Among earnings, Comcast rallied after the cable company posted quarterly results that exceeded Wall Street forecasts as it added more Internet customers than expected and saw a more than 20 percent increase in operating cash flow at its NBCUniversal unit. Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal.

MasterCard jumped after the credit-card provider beat earnings expectations. Rival Visa also traded higher.

Humana gained after the health insurance provider beat earnings expectations and lifted its guidance for the year on strong growth in membership levels.

And SodaStream zipped higher after the home soda systems maker topped earnings expectations.

Approximately 60 percent of S&P 500 companies have posted quarterly results so far, with 67 percent of firms exceeding earnings expectations and about 55 topping revenue estimates, according to the latest data from Thomson Reuters.

Allstate, CBS, Wholefoods and Dreamworks Animation are among notable companies slated to post results after the closing bell.

Air Products and Chemicals surged after activist investor Bill Ackman launched his biggest bet yet, taking a 9.8 percent stake in the company, a $2.2 billion investment.

Asian and European shares were mixed ahead of the Fed announcement. The Japanese Nikkei widened losses as dollar-yen fell below the 98-handle in afternoon trade on Wednesday, as investors digested the latest batch of corporate earnings. The Nikkei has been steadily declining since hitting a two-month high at 14,953 points on July 19.

—By CNBC's JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

On Tap This Week:

WEDNESDAY: Chicago PMI, oil inventories, FOMC mtg announcement, farm prices, Booz Allen Hamilton investor call, Electronic Arts shareholder mtg; Earnings from Allstate, CBS, Marriott, MetLife, Whole Foods, Dreamworks Animation, Yelp
THURSDAY: Challenger job-cut report, jobless claims, PMI manufacturing index, ISM mfg index, construction spending, natural gas inventories, Fed balance sheet/money supply, auto sales, JCPenney vs. Martha Stewart closing arguments, Michael Kors shareholder mtg, Motorola Moto X launch; Earnings from AstraZeneca, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, P&G, Royal Dutch Shell, Barrick Gold, Cigna, Clorox, Time Warner Cable, AIG, Kraft Foods, LinkedIn, Leap Wireless
FRIDAY: Nonfarm payrolls, personal icome & outlays, factory orders, Congress breaks for summer, Dell shareholders mtg, Detroit bankruptcy hearing; Earnings from Chevron, Toyota, Viacom

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