Wall Street slips ahead of Yellens speech

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The S&P 500 and the Dow were set for their first back-to-back losses since late-January on Friday, as investors preferred to wait and watch Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's speech for a steer on the chances of an interest rate hike this month. Yellen could support a rising sentiment among policymakers for an increase in rates amid data pointing to an improving U.S. economy. She is set to speak at 1:00 p.m. ET (1800 GMT). Also scheduled to speak is Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer at 12:30 p.m. ET. Traders have priced in a 75 percent chance of a rate hike when the Fed's policy-setting body meets on March 14-15. The odds stood at roughly 30 percent at the start of the week, according to Thomson Reuters data. Investors are also assessing their positions following a strong rally on Wednesday, after President Donald Trump's pro-growth speech to Congress and a rise in bank stocks sparked a record day on Wall Street. "I think we are at a position where we have the ability to move up a little bit higher (on rates)," said Paul Springmeyer, investment managing director at the Private Client Reserve at U.S. Bank in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

"But the difficulty is that we have a lot of other levers that are currently in flux, from a policy standpoint, and their potential impact on the equity markets." The S&P 500 is already up 6.3 percent so far this year, compared with the 9.5 percent it gained in 2016, triggering worries over valuation. At 11:02 a.m. ET (1602 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 44.89 points, or 0.21 percent, at 20,958.08, the S&P 500 was down 5.63 points, or 0.23 percent, at 2,376.29 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 14.29 points, or 0.24 percent, at 5,846.93.

Nine of the 11 major S&P sectors were lower, with high-dividend yielding utilities and real estate the biggest losers. Financials, which benefit from higher rates, rose 0.39 percent, while a rise in oil prices propped up the energy sector. Costco was the top drag on the S&P and the Nasdaq, falling 4 percent after its quarterly sales and profit missed analysts' expectations.

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