US Markets

Futures mildly lower ahead of Fed decision

How the Fed rate hike affects the stock market

U.S. stock index futures held a touch lower on Thursday as traders looked to the Federal Reserve and today's interest rate decision.

The Fed's Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) rate move is expected to be announced at 2:00 p.m. ET, with a press conference from Fed Chair Janet Yellen set to follow at 2:30 p.m.

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
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Whether the Fed raises rates or not, markets may move more on its words than actions.

Traders have been betting against a central bank rate hike, so news of such an increase could get a negative response.

But some say markets would be more relieved in the event of a rate rise if the Fed assures a slow path higher for rates, and it could do that in the interest rate forecasts of its members and again in its post-meeting news briefing.

The markets will also seek a clear explanation of why the Fed did not hike, if it holds rates steady.

U.S. stock index futures held mildly lower after a solid two-day rally that many attributed to expectations the Fed would not raise rates.

In Europe, the pan-European Stoxx 600 index was slightly lower, with investors keenly awaiting the Fed's decision. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite index closed down 2.08 percent amid volatility, while Japan's Nikkei finished 1.43 percent higher.

In economic news, initial jobless claims declined slightly to 264,000. August housing starts fell about 3 percent.

The Philly Fed Index is released at 10:00 a.m.

On the earnings front, Rite Aid reported before the bell. Adobe Systems was expected to report after the bell.

Rite Aid posted quarterly profit of 2 cents per share, compared to estimates of 4 cents a share, though revenue was above forecasts. The drug store chain also trimmed its earnings guidance slightly to reflect recent sales trends and additional amortization expense from its acquisition of pharmacy benefits manager EnvisionRX.

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In oil markets, Brent crude traded near $49 a barrel, down about 1.5 percent, while U.S. crude was at $46.70 a barrel, down about 0.9 percent.

--CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report.