US STOCKS-Futures muted as investors await Fed rate decision, Powell comments


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      Virgin Orbit soars as co nears $200 mln investment deal

      GameStop jumps after surprise Q4 profit 

      Futures mixed: Dow up 0.07%, S&P up 0.04%, Nasdaq down

 (Updates with prices and comments)
    By Amruta Khandekar and Shubham  Batra
       March 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were
subdued on Wednesday, ahead of the outcome of the Federal
Reserve's rate-setting meeting in which the central bank will
seek to balance inflation and banking sector concerns.
    Traders have halved the size of the expected interest rate
hike to 25 basis points following troubles in the banking
sector, with analysts saying a pause was unlikely as it would
indicate the turmoil had rattled the Fed. 
    The U.S. central bank's two-day policy meeting will end at 2
p.m. ET (1800 GMT), with investors keenly awaiting Fed Chair
Jerome Powell's conference at 2:30 p.m. ET to gauge the central
bank’s rate-hike trajectory.
    "The Fed has a hard task as fears around the financial
system intensify. While the central bank is likely to continue
its hiking cycle with a 0.25% move, we think the guidance for
future meetings will be considerably more open," said Gabriele
Foà, co-portfolio manager at Algebris Investments.  
    "Data will take the centrestage, and the Fed will need to
acknowledge good progress on inflation vs a re-prioritization of
the ongoing risks."
    Wall Street's main indexes notched gains in the past two
straight sessions, after the rescue of Credit Suisse  CS.N  as
well as measures by central banks to boost liquidity helped
soothe some worries about risks to other banks.
    However, a scramble by troubled regional U.S. lender First
Republic Bank  FRC.N  to secure a capital infusion has kept
alive some fears about the banking sector.
    Shares of First Republic edged 1.5% higher in premarket
trade, with a Bloomberg News report on Tuesday stating the
bank's rescue could rely on backing from the U.S. government to
facilitate a deal.
    Shares of its peers PacWest Bancorp  PACW.O  and Western
Alliance Bancorp  WAL.N  were also up 0.5% and 1.3%,
respectively, amid choppy trading. 
    U.S. Treasury yields inched lower, with that on the two-year
note last at 4.17%.
    At 7:00 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis  1YMcv1  were up 24 points, or
0.07%, S&P 500 e-minis  EScv1  were up 1.5 points, or 0.04%, and
Nasdaq 100 e-minis  NQcv1  were down 12.75 points, or 0.1%.
    Among other stocks, Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc  VORB.O 
soared 61.3% after Reuters reported the company is near a deal
for a $200 million investment from Texas-based venture capital
investor Matthew Brown. 
    GameStop Corp  GME.N  jumped 47.0% after the company posted
a surprise profit for the fourth quarter, helped by lower costs
and job cuts.
    Nike Inc  NKE.N  fell 0.48% in premarket trade after the
sports apparel maker raised its full-year revenue outlook on
Tuesday but warned of margin pressures.

 (Reporting by Amruta Khandekar and Shubham Batra in Bengaluru;
Editing by Nivedita Bhattacharjee and Vinay Dwivedi)

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