U.S. stock futures search for firm direction, marooned in wait for Yellen

U.S. stock futures search for firm direction, marooned in wait for Yellen

Qantas reported an underlying profit before tax of 1.53 billion Australian dollars ($1.17 billion U.S.) for the period, up 57% on-year.

ENERGY: Oil prices extended losses.

Gold futures suffered a sharp loss on Wednesday as traders hoped for some clarity on the near-term path for USA interest rates from Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen's speech later this week.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 67 points, or 0.4 percent, to 18,487 as of 9:50 a.m.

DRUG DEAL: Cancer drug maker Medivation jumped $13.34, or 20 percent, to $80.49 after pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced it would buy the company for $14 billion, or $81.50 a share.

The S&P 500 index showed 26 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 118 new highs and seven new lows. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Vertex Pharmaceuticals and Alexion Pharmaceuticals all were up roughly 3 percent or more.

ENERGY WEAKNESS: Oil prices fell sharply. USA benchmark crude lost $1.47 to close at $47.05 a barrel and Brent crude, used to price oil internationally, declined $1.72 to close at $49.16 a barrel. The contract lost $1.70 to close at $47.41 a barrel on Monday.

Markets steady ahead of Jackson Hole meeting * Officials still divided over near-term hike * GRAPHIC-2016 asset returns: reut.rs/1WAiOSC (Updates throughout, adds LONDON dateline) By Jan Harvey LONDON, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Gold held steady on Wednesday as investors took to the sidelines ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen this weekend which will be closely watched for further clues on interest rate policy. However, a series of hawkish signals from some Fed officials recently brightened the outlook for the USA central bank to raise rates this year.

If Yellen's Fed fails to convince Wall Street about the policy path, a rate increase could trigger financial turmoil of the sort seen in 2013, when investors were caught off guard by the central bank signaling an end to its bond-buying program.

EUR/USD is likely to find support at 1.1175 levels and now trading at 1.1263 levels. Second quarter earnings season is effectively over and the next major piece of economic data does not come until Friday, when Yellen will speak. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 1 percent to 2,182.64 and the Nasdaq composite rose 0.1 percent to 5,244.60.

"We're so focused on what guidance we might or might not get on Friday that we're really just drifting around in these ranges at the moment without any real direction", said RBC Capital Markets currency strategist Adam Cole.

The Fed has been suggesting it could raise rates in 2016 since it tightened policy in December for the first time in almost a decade, but investors have doubts the central bank will follow through on that guidance.

Many investors have avoided making bets on higher US interest rates as recent economic indicators have been mixed.

In Tokyo, the dollar slipped to 100.22 yen from 100.32 yen Monday in NY.

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