US STOCKS-Futures little changed after data, focus on Fed
* Chicago area manufacturing data due
* Air Products shares up after Ackman confirms stake
* Futures: Dow off 14 pts, S&P off 0.20 pt, Nasdaq up 0.50 pts
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, July 31 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Wednesday after data showed stronger-than-anticipated jobs growth in the private sector and accelerated momentum by the economy.
But the reports failed to move the needle on futures as traders focused on a much-anticipated statement from the Federal Reserve that could spell out the U.S. central bank's stimulus roadmap for the coming months.
The Fed likely will decide at the end of its policy meeting on Wednesday to continue buying bonds at an $85 billion monthly pace, but its statement will be combed for indications on when and by how much it could scale back its purchases as the economic recovery takes hold.
The Fed's stimulus program is seen by many as one of the main reasons for the stock market to have risen more than 18 percent so far this year.
U.S. economic growth, as measured by gross domestic product, unexpectedly accelerated in the second quarter by 1.7 percent at annual rate, the government said. Economists had expected a 1.0 percent gain.
In addition, private employers added 200,000 jobs in July, according to the ADP National Employment Report, topping economists' expectations and laying a firmer foundation for the rest of the year that could bring the Fed closer to cutting back its stimulus.
"This obviously will increase the debate as to whether the Fed will begin trimming (its purchases) sometime in September as opposed to the end of the year or the beginning of the first quarter of 2014," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.
"The debate is going to be in favor of those thinking of the September pullback."
S&P 500 futures edged up 0.20 point and were little changed in terms of fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 14 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 0.50 point.
Air Products & Chemicals shares gained 4 percent premarket after activist investor William Ackman said his Pershing Square Capital Management has acquired a 9.8 percent stake the industrial gas producer.
U.S. hospital chain Community Health Systems said on Tuesday it reached a deal to buy Health Management Associates for $3.9 billion, but quickly faced opposition from major HMA investor Glenview Capital Management over the price.
Symantec shares rose 4.8 percent in premarket trading a day after the maker of Norton anti-virus software posted better-than-expected quarterly results as customers used more of its security products in the wake of a series of hacking attacks.
With quarterly results in from 60 percent of the S&P 500 companies, 67.4 percent have exceeded earnings expectations - in line with the average beat over the last four quarters. About 55 percent of companies have topped revenue expectations, more than the 48 percent of revenue beats in the past four earnings seasons but below the historical average, Thomson Reuters data showed.
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