* Fed signals two more rate hikes this year * Feb. housing starts rise more than expected * Tesla up on plan to raise $1.15 bln * Indexes up: Dow 0.13 pct, S&P 0.02 pct, Nasdaq 0.09 pct (Updates to open) By Yashaswini Swamynathan March 16 (Reuters) – U.S. stocks opened slightly higher onThursday as Oracle boosted the technology sector and bank sharesgained after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for thefirst time this year. The central bank on Wednesday raised rates by a quarterpoint to 0.75-1.00 percent, responding to the continued strengthin the labor market and a pick up in inflation. However, the Fed stuck to its outlook for two more ratehikes this year and three in 2018. Shares of big U.S. banks,which slipped on the less hawkish-than-expected stance onWednesday, were up about 0.7 percent. “A less aggressive Fed was clearly the message the marketswanted to hear and indeed acted accordingly,” Peter Cardillo,chief market economist at First Standard Financial, wrote in anote. “The Fed’s plan to stick to three rate hikes gave the greenlight for investors to focus on economic and corporate growth.” Oracle gave the biggest boost to the S&P, with an8.3 percent rise after the business software maker issued abetter-than-expected quarterly profit. IBM was up 1.2 percent and was the top stock on theDow. The S&P information technology sector was up 0.42 percent,giving the broader index its biggest boost. At 9:37 a.m. ET (1337 GMT), the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 28.03 points, or 0.13 percent, at 20,978.13, theS&P 500 was up 0.65 points, or 0.03 percent, at 2,385.91and the Nasdaq Composite was up 5.09 points, or 0.09percent, at 5,905.14. The gains in technology and financial stocks helped keep theS&P in the positive territory even though seven other sectorsdeclined. Backing Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s optimism on the economy, areport from the Commerce Department showed homebuilding jumpedin February as unseasonably warm weather boosted theconstruction of single-family houses. The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefitsfell last week, pointing to a further tightening in the labormarket, according to a report from the Labor Department. Shares of Tesla rose 2.8 percent to $262.94 afterthe electric carmaker said it would raise about $1.15 billion asthe company speeds up the launch of its Model 3 sedan. Biogen was off 3.3 percent to $282.83 after MorganStanley and Leerink downgraded the drugmaker’s stock and cutprice targets. Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,621to 991. On the Nasdaq, 1,349 issues rose and 851 fell. The S&P 500 index showed 41 new 52-week highs and no newlows, while the Nasdaq recorded 78 new highs and 25 new lows. (Reporting by Yashaswini Swamynathan in Bengaluru; Editing byAnil D’Silva & Shri Navaratnam)
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