March 21, 2018

Before the markets open: Fed focus; Facebook in crisis; General Mills earnings

1. Fed focus: The US Federal Reserve wraps up its first meeting under new chief Jerome Powell and will be announcing its interest rate decision at 2 p.m. ET.

Powell will then hold his first press conference as Fed chairman.

The central bank is all but certain to lift interest rates. The bigger question is, what will the Fed do next?

The US central bank has been slowly raising rates to keep the economy humming without causing it to overheat. But a recent $1.5 trillion tax cut and $300 billion spending bill, along with an improved economic outlook, have more recently changed that calculus.

It may now have to raise rates faster than it had planned to prevent the economy from overheating.

Fed officials will also release revised economic forecasts on Wednesday, which will signal whether the central bank expects to raise rates four times this year rather than three.

2. Facebook debacle: Shares in Facebook could continue their descent as investor sue and regulators launch investigations into the company's business practices involving user data.

There are concerns about how Facebook allowed outsiders including the political data firm Cambridge Analytica to use its data.

Facebook shares were down 2.5% premarket. The company's market value has plunged almost $50 billion this week.

3. Earnings: General Mills is set to release earnings before the bell, while Guess and Scholastic will follow after the close.

Hong Kong-listed tech giant Tencent released annual results on Wednesday. Shares in the firm doubled last year and the company's valuation has now firmly surpassed that of Facebook.

BMW shares gained less than 1% after the German automaker said that its operating profit increased 5.3% in 2017.

4. Global stock market overview: US stock futures were soft.

European markets were mixed in early trading. Asian markets ended with minor gains and losses.

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average jumped 0.5%, the S&P 500 added 0.2% and the Nasdaq climbed 0.3%.

5. Coming this week: Wednesday — Powell's first press conference Thursday — Darden, Nike earnings

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