March 20, 2018 / 1:16 PM / 9 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall St set to open flat with Fed meeting, tariffs in focus

* Facebook shares under pressure for second day

* Oracle slumps as Q3 cloud business disappoints

* FOMC meeting kicks off on Tuesday, policy guidance eyed

* Futures: Dow down 1 pt, S&P up 2 pts, Nasdaq off 1.25 pts (Adds comment, details, updates prices)

By Sruthi Shankar

March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures treaded water on Tuesday, a day after a Facebook ignited a selloff on Wall Street, with investors bracing for the first Federal Reserve interest rate hike this year and as the United States readies to slap tariffs on China.

The Fed is widely expected to increase rates by a quarter basis point at the end of its two-day meeting on Wednesday, but the bigger question is how aggressive the U.S. central bank will be with monetary policy after that.

Traders currently expect two more rate hikes later this year, although they said policymakers could set a hawkish tone by forecasting four increases in their “dot plot” projections.

The past nine years of U.S. stock market gains have come with the Fed fostering an environment of easy money for the financial system, but it has begun gradually withdrawing that accommodation as the economy appears to be on healthier footing. Few economists expect new Fed chair Jerome Powell to alter the trajectory of the bank’s anticipated rate path, but as it is his first meeting at the helm, investors have been somewhat on edge as the meeting approaches.

Aside from the Fed, the Trump administration is creating a stir with plans for up to $60 billion in new tariffs on Chinese imports by Friday, targeting technology, telecommunications and intellectual property, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

“There’s much more volatility in this marketplace and that’s because there two main fears - monetary policy mistake and trade policy mistake and on backdrop is a lot of chaos that comes out of White House,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at B. Riley FBR in Boston.

Equity index futures were little changed, offering no clear indication of whether stocks would rebound from Monday’s steep losses, especially in the tech sector where concerns about Facebook’s data privacy issues continued to swirl.

By 8:36 a.m. ET, Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 4.75 points, Dow e-minis fell 13 points, and S&P 500 e-minis were fractionally higher.

On Monday, the Nasdaq Composite index and the S&P 500 technology index both fell more than 2 percent in their steepest one-day declines since Feb. 8.

Shares of Facebook, which instigated the rout, were down 0.72 percent in premarket trading following a 6.8 percent drop on Monday on reports that its users’ data was misused.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg faced calls from both U.S. and European lawmakers demanding explanations and fears of increased regulation on how companies use data had sent shares of other internet stocks down as well.

“We’re sort of trying to figure if the technology sector is still under pressure, Facebook can be a longer story as it ties to a larger issue of moral investigation,” Hogan said.

Apple, Alphabet, Netflix, Microsoft and Amazon were up between 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent.

Software stocks could come under pressure Tuesday after Oracle reported quarterly revenue that missed Wall Street estimates on disappointing sales from its cloud business. The stock was down more than 8 percent premarket. (Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D’Souza and Dan Burns)

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