Wall St. slips from highs after Fed officials' rate comments

(Reuters) - U.S. stocks eased from record highs on Tuesday after comments from Federal Reserve officials fueled speculation of an interest rate hike this year.

The S&P telecommunications index and utilities, among sectors most sensitive to changes in interest rates, led the day’s declines. Telecom dropped 2.1 percent and utilities were down 1.2 percent.

New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley said a rate hike in September was possible, while Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said the U.S. economy is likely strong enough for at least one rate increase before the end of 2016, with two a possibility.

Dudley cited evidence of wage gains and a tighter labor market that could boost inflation. Their comments came ahead of an annual meeting of central bankers from around the world in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, next week.

“I don’t think most people are expecting the Fed to actually hike in September ... (but) we’ve had a strong market and a couple of good jobs numbers,” said Michael O’Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut.

The Fed officials’ comments raised traders’ expectations of a U.S. rate hike this year, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool.

Continued expectations of low interest rates have helped stocks rise to record highs, with the S&P 500 index notching 10 all-time closing highs so far this year.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 84.03 points, or 0.45 percent, to 18,552.02, the S&P 500 lost 12 points, or 0.55 percent, to 2,178.15 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 34.90 points, or 0.66 percent, to 5,227.11.

Investors will pore over the minutes of the Fed’s July policy meeting, scheduled for release on Wednesday, for clues on the U.S. central bank’s rate plans after recent blowout jobs data.

Shares of TJX were down 5.8 percent at $77.97 and among the biggest drags on the S&P 500 after the company forecast fiscal-year earnings below analysts’ estimates.

Among the day’s gainers, shares of industrial gas supplier Praxair rose 2.7 percent to $121.27 after the company announced it was in early-stage talks on a merger with German peer Linde.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 2.21-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.27-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted seven new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 74 new highs and 25 new lows.

About 5.9 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, compared with the 6.4 billion daily average for the past 20 trading days, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Additional reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing by James Dalgleish