* 298,000 jobs added in Feb vs est 190,000
* Fed to decide on rates at March 14-15 meeting
* Futures: Dow up 9 pts, S&P down 0.75 pts, Nasdaq down 4.5
(Adds details, comments, updates prices)
By Yashaswini Swamynathan
March 8 U.S. stocks were set to open little
changed on Wednesday after a better-than-expected private sector
hiring pointed to a healthy labor market, making an interest
rate increase by the Federal Reserve next week near certain.
The report is seen as a precursor to Friday's more
comprehensive nonfarm payrolls data, which acts as a barometer
for the health of the U.S. economy and is a key data point for
the Fed to decide on rates.
The U.S. private sector added 298,000 jobs last month,
blowing past economists' average estimate of 190,000, according
to the ADP National Employment report.
Traders have priced in an all-but-certain quarter point rate
hike during the Fed's meeting on March 14-15, but investors are
keen to know whether the central bank would increase the pace of
Fed Chair Janet Yellen last week remarked that scaling back
on monetary policy would likely not be as slow this year as it
was in 2016 and 2015.
Though the markets have been more resilient to the prospects
of higher rates now than they were last year, the chatter has
put the brakes on a rally that took off on President Donald
Trump's promise of tax reforms and infrastructure spending.
"Even if the Fed raises rates next week, it would be to 75
basis points which is historically very low and is still
considered very easy money," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive
officer at 50 Park Investments, in Florida.
"For the first time in years, you have hope that fiscal
policy will be kicked into gear in the U.S. and other parts of
the world ... that leads to healthier economic conditions and
that's why stocks refuse to fall in a meaningful way."
The S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average
marked their first back-to-back losses in over one month
Still, the S&P has not fallen more than 1 percent since Oct.
The dollar gathered strength on Wednesday, while gold -
which tends to lose value as rate rise - was lower.
Oil could weigh on the markets, following a 1 percent drop
in prices after a report showed a large rise in U.S. crude
Dow e-minis were up 9 points, or 0.04 percent at
8:33 a.m. ET (1333 GMT), with 35,507 contracts changing hands.
S&P 500 e-minis were down 0.75 points, or 0.03
percent, with 184,674 contracts traded.
Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 4.5 points, or 0.08
percent, on volume of 31,722 contracts.
Shares of big U.S. banks, including Bank of America,
Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Citigroup, were
up in premarket trading.
Urban Outfitters dropped 6 percent to $23.70
following a sales miss that led to William Blair to downgrade
the stock and others to cut price targets.
(Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by