* Alcoa higher in premarket after earnings
* Fed minutes on tap at 2pm ET
* Intuitive Surgical slumps after outlook
* Futures up: Dow 53 pts, S&P 4.5 pts, Nasdaq 12.5 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set for a modestly higher open on Wednesday, putting the S&P 500 on track for a second straight advance, in the wake of earnings from Alcoa and ahead of the minutes from the last Federal Reserve meeting.
* Alcoa Inc gained 4.2 percent to $13.06 in premarket trade after the former Dow component reported a decline in first quarter adjusted profit on Tuesday as aluminum prices dropped, but earnings came in ahead of analysts’ expectations.
* S&P 500 companies’ first-quarter earnings are projected to have increased just 1 percent from a year ago, Thomson Reuters data showed. The forecast is down sharply from the start of the year, when profit growth was estimated at 6.5 percent.
* The Federal Reserve is expected to release the minutes from its March 18-19 meeting at 2 p.m. (1800 GMT). The Fed needs to be more specific about what economic conditions would prompt it to raise interest rates from current rock-bottom levels, a pair of top Fed officials normally at odds on policy said on Tuesday.
* Earnings season gets under way this week, with results due from retailer Bed, Bath & Beyond after the close, while financials JPMorgan Chase & Co and Wells Fargo & Co close out the week with results on Friday.
* Investors will be looking at the impact of harsh winter weather on first-quarter earnings, and signs of optimism for the second-quarter.
* U.S. stocks advanced in the prior session to snap a three-day losing streak as investors bought beaten-down social media and Internet shares.
* The benchmark S&P 500 index managed to hold above its 50-day moving average around 1,840, a key support level. The index has been able to successfully defend the 1,840 area several times over the past month.
* S&P 500 e-mini futures rose 4.5 points and were above 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 gained 53 points and Nasdaq 100 futures added 12.5 points.
* General Motors Co shares lost 1.8 percent to $33.90 before the opening bell. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the automaker is being fined $7,000 a day for missing an April 3 deadline to provide information about its recall of 2.6 million cars for defective ignition switches. Morgan Stanley subsequently cut the stock to “underweight.”
* Intuitive Surgical Inc estimated first-quarter revenue well below analysts’ average expectation, mainly due to a 60 percent drop in sales of its flagship da Vinci robot system. Its shares slumped 9.2 percent to $444.95 in premarket trade.
* Constant Contact Inc jumped 15.2 percent to $25.25 before the opening bell after the online marketer said it expects quarterly revenue to rise by more than 15 percent. (Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)