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US stock indexes dipped on Wednesday ahead of a policy announcement by the Federal Reserve later in the day, as the latest readings on inflation solidified bets of a speedier wind-down of the central bank's pandemic-era monetary stimulus.

The US central bank is widely expected to signal a faster end to its bond-buying campaign and a quicker start to raising interest rates at its meeting. The statement will be released at 2 p.m. ET (1900 GMT), followed by Fed chief Jerome Powell's news conference.

Data on Tuesday showed producer prices increased more than expected in the 12 months through November, clocking its largest gain since 2010. Last week's consumer prices data showed the biggest gain in almost four decades.

A Reuters poll of economists is suggesting an interest-rate hike to 0.25-0.50% from near zero in the third quarter of next year, followed by another in the fourth quarter.

Six of the 11 major indexes were higher in early trading, with defensive plays such as utilities and real estate taking the lead, signaling a risk-off environment.

US stocks gain despite latest inflation spike

"It's very possible that people are taking a bit of an advantage or changing lanes because they are afraid of bad news coming from the Fed," said Julius de Kempenaer, senior technical analyst at StockCharts.com.

"But on the other hand, if the market were really afraid of bad news, the futures should have moved a lot more. So, this is not really a market that is speaking its voice, not yet."

Wall Street's main indexes have had a softer start to the week after the S&P 500 index touched a record closing high on Friday, as worries about the new fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant gave investors pause.

US retail sales rose 0.3% last month, the Commerce Department said, coming in less than expected as Americans started their holiday shopping early to avoid shortages and paying more for goods.

Shares of big technology firms, including Tesla Inc , Microsoft Corp, Netflix Inc, Meta Platforms and Alphabet Inc were mixed.

At 9:38 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 101.80 points, or 0.29%, at 35,442.38, the S&P 500 was down 2.01 points, or 0.04%, at 4,632.08 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 13.01 points, or 0.09%, at 15,224.63.

Albemarle Corp and Livent Corp fell 5.3% and 6.5%, respectively, after Goldman Sachs downgraded both the lithium producers to "sell" from "neutral".

Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.27-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and for a 1.35-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded nine new 52-week highs and six new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded seven new highs and 150 new lows.

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