Futures edge higher as Fed kicks off 2-day meeting

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures edged higher in very light trading Tuesday as Federal Reserve policymakers gathered for a two-day meeting.

Most expect some drawdown of a monthly $85 billion bond-buying program that has kept interest rates low, despite sketchy job numbers released earlier this month.

Dow Jones industrial futures rose 6 points to 15,423. S&P futures have gained less than a point to 1,691.30. Nasdaq futures rose 3 points to 3,164.

There was some early pressure on specialty retailers, who were all but ignored during the crucial back-to-school shopping season.

People appear increasingly unwilling to spend money on clothing or on almost anything in a shopping mall, favoring big ticket items like vehicles and appliances.

Part of that is being driven by tremendously low interest rates, which have allowed people to buy homes or to finally replace a vehicle that may have been kept around for longer than is usual due to the tepid economy.

The research firm ShopperTrak on Tuesday projected that the weak school shopping season will be followed by more of the same during the holidays, suggesting that the sour trend for retailers may go on.

Americans, while not losing as many jobs as before, are not seeing their pay keep up with expenses. That appears to be weighing on families, who are more hesitant to drop much money in retail stores.

The lack of consumer spending, which drives 70 percent of the nation’s economic activity, has occurred during a period of tame inflation.

On Tuesday, Labor Department reported that consumer prices ticked up 0.1 percent in August.

Prices have risen just 1.5 percent over the past 12 months. That’s down from 2 percent year-over-year gain in July and below the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target.

Yet core prices had the largest 12-month gain since March, coming in at 1.8 percent compared with the same period last year.

If taken alone, the consumer price index report would send mixed signals to the Fed and to Wall Street.

Rising core prices would suggest the Fed could ease back on its stimulus programs. But if inflation remains significantly below target, the Fed could move in the opposite direction.

The Fed releases its officials statement after 2 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday.

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