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US stocks eye Fed minutes for rate-hike hints

U.S. stock-index futures indicated a higher open Wednesday, as investors look to the minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest meeting for a steer on when interest rates could rise.

The minutes, due to be published at 2 p.m. ET, have taken on all the more significance after strong jobs data has led some to argue a rate hike could come sooner than expected.

Last week's strong non-farm payrolls data, and JOLTS job openings climbing to their highest level in seven years in May according to data released on Tuesday, could push the Fed to raise rates ahead of schedule.

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"The release yesterday of the latest JOLTS report provided further evidence that the U.S. labor market continues to heal, revealing that job openings have nearly returned to their previous cyclical peak from March 2007," said Lee Hardman, economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, in a morning note.

"It is a further sign that the U.S. labor market is tightening, which is likely to lead to higher earnings growth ahead which is seen as the missing trigger to prompt the Fed to begin raising rates."

Jim Reid, Deutsche Bank strategist, said he expected the minutes to reveal a more hawkish side to the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). "Judging by the trading patterns on previous FOMC minutes days, the minutes have been a bridge between the Fed leadership and perhaps a less dovish overall Committee," he said in a note.

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The Mortgage Bankers Association on Wednesday reported a 4 percent rise last week in applications to buy a home, following several week-to-week declines.

EIA oil-and-gas-inventory data is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Eastern.

On Tuesday, stocks skidded lower, extending the prior day's slide, as investors braced for the start of second-quarter earnings season.

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But it appeared to get off to a good start, with Alcoa – which reported after the bell – posting a return to profitability in the second quarter. The aluminium producer reported earnings that beat expectations, said its restructuring charges had diminished and its core metals unit delivered strong growth.