By Steve Goldstein, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock futures crept higher Tuesday ahead of what could be the final time that the Federal Reserve promises to keep interest rates at low levels for an "extended period" of time.
S&P 500 futures rose 2.6 points to 1,148.30 and Nasdaq 100 futures added 4.25 points to 1,921.20. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 18 points.
A magnitude 4.4 earthquake which hit Los Angeles had little immediate impact. The Los Angeles Times said on its Web site the quake was felt widely but no injuries or damage was known.
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U.S. stocks meandered for much of Monday's session, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average recovering from early losses to close 0.2% higher and the S&P 500 rising 0.1%, while the Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.2%. Wal-Mart Stores was strong on a broker upgrade while Google lost ground on a report it may exit China.
Tuesday's session will be heavily focused on the Federal Open Market Committee decision due at 2:15 p.m. Eastern -- and in particular, on the language employed and whether dissent grows beyond one voter.
"Every month of better/solid U.S. economic data that goes by means we are inevitably approaching the sell-by date of the 'extended period' language, but with no tangible evidence yet of a return to sustained employment growth, we think the Fed is likely to stick to its dovish guns for now," said Kenneth Broux, market economist at Lloyds TSB Corporate Markets.
Also out will be data on U.S. import prices and housing starts for February.
Limited Brands /quotes/comstock/13*!ltd/quotes/nls/ltd (LTD 23.71, -0.03, -0.13%) rose over 4% after announcing a special dividend of $1 a share.
Boston Scientific /quotes/comstock/13*!bsx/quotes/nls/bsx (BSX 6.80, -0.98, -12.60%) fell further, losing 2.8% in premarket trade as Goldman Sachs downgraded the medical device maker to sell. On Monday, Boston Scientific halted the sale of some defibrillators.
Sequenom /quotes/comstock/15*!sqnm/quotes/nls/sqnm (SQNM 7.76, -0.05, -0.64%) dropped 21% after the genetic analysis products firm reported a widening loss.
In Asia Tuesday, stocks were mixed, with many investors cautious ahead of the results of the U.S. Federal Reserve and Bank of Japan policy meetings this week. Europe stocks were stronger, led by banks and automakers.
Oil futures moved above $80 a barrel, while gold futures were stronger. The dollar rose against the euro and the yen.
Steve Goldstein is MarketWatch's London bureau chief.