August 23, 2018 / 1:17 PM / 3 months ago

US STOCKS-Wall St set to open flat, with Jackson Hole meet in focus

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* New U.S.-China tariffs worth $16 bln take effect

* All eyes on Powell speech at Jackson Hole on Friday

* Hormel Foods, Sanderson Farms drop as tariffs hit results

* L Brands hit by outlook cut; Williams-Sonoma up on results

* Futures: Dow and S&P up 0.2 pct; Nasdaq dips 0.06 pct (Adds comment, details; Updates prices)

By Shreyashi Sanyal

Aug 23 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures struggled to move higher on Thursday as new tariffs took effect in the U.S.-China trade war and markets speculated on the future path of interest rate hikes.

Despite ongoing trade talks between the United States and China, the two countries imposed 25 percent tariffs on $16 billion worth of each other’s goods, adding to risks to global economic growth.

The impact of trade disputes and raising rates soon to counter excessive economic strength were among the topics U.S. central bankers discussed in their last meeting, minutes of the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting showed on Wednesday.

But, with a rate hike widely expected in September, investors will watch for Powell’s speech at the Jackson Hole symposium on Friday for clues on future rate hikes.

The symposium kicks off on Thursday, with global central bankers set to discuss the root causes of stubbornly low inflation, slow wage growth and tepid productivity gains.

“Main thing on our radar right now is the two-day Jackson Hole symposium and investors are waiting on Powell’s speech to figure out what kind of hike path the Fed is on,” said Michael Antonelli, managing director, institutional sales trading at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee.

“Political headlines in the past few days have had very little impact on people’s thoughts around the markets.”

At 8:59 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 5 points, or 0.02 percent. S&P 500 e-minis were up 0.75 points, or 0.02 percent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 4.5 points, or 0.06 percent.

Data showed number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell last week, a sign the labor market was holding firm despite trade tensions that have spawned restrictions on global commerce.

But U.S. meat producers have said increase in Chinese tariffs on beef and pork have led to domestic oversupply and forced price cuts for competing meat such as chicken.

Shares of Hormel Foods fell 4.7 percent and Sanderson Farms 4 percent before the bell after the packaged food makers posted disappointing results, laying the blame partly on China tariffs.

Alibaba rose 4.1 percent after the online retailer topped first-quarter revenue estimates, driven by growth in its core e-commerce business. Rival JD.com climbed 1.6 percent.

Victoria’s Secret-owner L Brands dropped 5.5 percent after cutting its full-year profit expectations, while Pottery Barn owner Williams-Sonoma gained 7.1 percent after posting strong quarterly sales.

Synopsys gained 6.3 percent after the electronic products and software maker beat quarterly estimates for revenue and profit. (Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru)

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