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Wall Street stocks ease; investors weigh chance of Fed rate hike slowdown

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street stocks fell on Tuesday while Treasury yields dipped as investors speculated whether the U.S. Federal Reserve may hint at a slower pace of policy tightening this week.

Data showing U.S. job openings unexpectedly rose in September and suggesting that demand for labor remains strong supported the view that the Fed will continue with its aggressive interest rate hikes.

The Fed is expected to raise interest rates by 75 basis points on Wednesday after its two-day meeting, but investors will look for any signals that the U.S. central bank may be considering slowing the pace of rate hikes in the future.

"With the Fed tomorrow, it's more about the comments following the rate hike," said Jake Dollarhide, chief executive officer of Longbow Asset Management in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "The question is: Do they start to turn dovish? Do they start to pinpoint their plan to pivot? Will they suggest they could do 50 (basis points) in December and will be done in early 2023?"

"The market is down today based on a little nervousness that the Fed is going to be a broken record tomorrow, and that it's going to be cautious at all cost."

Although last week's ECB meeting was perceived by markets as containing dovish signals, ECB President Christine Lagarde said in an interview on Tuesday that the central bank must keep raising rates to fight off inflation, even if the probability of a euro zone recession has increased.

The Bank of England (BoE) is also meeting this week and is expected to deliver a 75 basis points increase as well. Traders then expect the BoE to slow down and raise rates by 50 basis points in December.

In U.S. equity markets, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 79.75 points, or 0.24%, to 32,653.2, the S&P 500 lost 15.88 points, or 0.41%, to 3,856.1 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 97.30 points, or 0.89%, to 10,890.85.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.58% and MSCI's gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.19%.

British energy giant BP reported a third quarter profit of $8.15 billion, more than double its earnings in the same period last year. Rivals Shell, Exxon Mobil and TotalEnergies also reported bumper profits last week.

The yield on 10-year notes fell 2.7 basis points to 4.05%, while the two-year yield, which typically moves in step with rate expectations, was up 4.4 basis points to yield 4.5447%.

In currencies, the dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against six rivals, was up very slightly.

The Chinese yuan fell to a near 15-year low against the dollar, before paring its losses after the central bank fixed the official guidance rate on the weaker side of the key 7.2-per-dollar level for the first time since 2008. The dollar was last down 0.4% against the offshore yuan.

The Australian dollar was little changed at US$0.6395.. The Reserve Bank of Australia raised rates by 25 basis points for a second month running, but revised its inflation outlook upward and said more rate hikes would be needed.

In commodities, oil recouped losses from the previous session, on optimism that China, the world's second-largest oil consumer, could reopen from strict COVID-19 curbs. U.S. crude oil futures settled at $88.37 per barrel, up $1.84, or 2.13% while Brent crude futures settled at $94.65, up $1.84, or 1.98%.

(Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Sinéad Carew in New York, Elizabeth Howcroft in London, Editing by Chizu Nomiyamad, Tomasz Janowski and Jonathan Oatis)