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US STOCKS-Wall St set for lower open amid mixed signals on Fed stimulus

Angela Moon
Wednesday, 13 Nov 2013 | 9:18 AM ET

* Fed uncertainty curbs appetite for risky assets

* Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to speak at town hall meeting

* Futures down: Dow 84 pts; S&P 9.5 pts; Nasdaq 26.25 pts

NEW YORK, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to open lower Wednesday as uncertainty over how soon the Federal Reserve will begin to scale back its stimulus efforts curbed investors' appetite for risky assets.

Investors digested a recent stream of divergent remarks by several Fed officials, which compounded the uncertainty over the outlook for the central bank's easy-money policies. The Fed's stimulative bond purchases have helped prop up the U.S. economy and equity market for much of the year.

On Tuesday, Minneapolis Fed Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota and Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said monetary policy should remain accommodative. In contrast, Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told CNBC the Fed's massive bond purchases cannot continue forever.

"What we are seeing time and time again is a respite after a strong market charge. This pattern of stair-stepping to all-time highs is now being encountered with some profit taking and conservative portfolio management, especially ahead of the Yellen confirmation," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital LLC in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

Some market participants speculate that the Fed could begin to scale back stimulus as early as December, after the Labor Department said Friday the U.S. economy created 204,000 jobs in October.

Investors will likely look to comments from other Fed officials for clues on the longevity of the central bank's stimulus policy. Scheduled to speak Wednesday are Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Sandra Pianalto at 8:45 a.m. EST (1345 GMT) and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke at 7:00 p.m. EST.

Market participants are also likely to refrain from making big bets ahead of the Senate confirmation hearings on Thursday with Janet Yellen, who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to chair the Federal Reserve after Bernanke steps down.

S&P 500 futures fell 9.5 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 84 points and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 26.25 points.

On Tuesday, the Dow and the S&P 500 ended lower, after two days of record-high closes for the Dow Jones industrial average.

Shares of Macy's Inc rose 5.8 percent in premarket trading after the department store operator reported higher-than-expected third-quarter comparable sales.

Shares of Potbelly Corp jumped 11 percent in premarket trading, a day after the sandwich chain reported results that beat Wall Street expectations.

U.S. Treasury prices rose on Wednesday ahead of an auction of $24 billion later in the day. In economic data, the U.S. Treasury will release a monthly account of the budget surplus or deficit at 2:00 p.m. EST.