Stocks were set for slight declines on Wednesday, even as investors embraced strong results from Apple Inc. that blew past analysts' expectations.
U.S. stock index futures were down with about two hours before markets open, suggesting that stocks will fall at the start of trading. Futures for the Dow Jones industrial average were down 41 points or 0.3 per cent -- putting it on track for a potential three straight days of losses. Futures for the broader S&P 500 were down 4 points or 0.3 per cent.
The setbacks suggest that Apple's quarterly results are having little impact on wider sentiment, even though Apple itself looked set for big gains. The shares were up 7.7 per cent in premarket activity after the technology company reported a 73 per cent jump in quarterly sales and earnings that more than doubled, to $13.87 (U.S.) a share. The results, delivered after markets closed on Tuesday, provide some relief over concerns that competitors are chipping away at Apple's dominance of the tablet computer market.
Among other companies releasing their results: Boeing Co., Corning Inc. and Abbott Laboratories.
Meanwhile, investors will be focused on the Federal Reserve when it releases its latest monetary policy statement in the afternoon, along with a new concept for the central bank: a forecast for short-term interest rates over the next two years. While no one is expecting any noises about raising rates from their current level of about zero per cent, observers will be keen to hear what the Fed has to say about the recent batch of upbeat U.S. economic news, including falling weekly jobless claims. The statement is due to be released a 12:30 pm (ET), followed by a question and answer period with Fed chairman Ben Bernanke.
In Europe, stocks also fell on Wednesday. In early afternoon trading, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 and Germany's DAX index were down 0.6 per cent each. There, Greece is hanging over investor sentiment, with private-sector creditors meeting in Paris to discuss how to move forward in talks with the Greek government. A deal to take a loss on government bonds has been foundering recently, despite pressure from European finance ministers to reach an agreement.
In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.1 per cent in overnight trading.
Crude oil slipped to $98.22 a barrel, down 0.7 per cent. Gold fell to $1,656 an ounce, down 0.5 per cent.