US STOCKS-Hopes of Fed standing pat on rate hikes drive Wall Street higher

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* Consumer discretionary sector top boost to S&P 500

* Dow crosses 26,000 points mark, first time since March 4

* Federal Reserve kicks off two-day policy meeting

* Indexes rise: Dow 0.46 pct, S&P 0.33 pct, Nasdaq 0.31 pct (Changes comment, adds detail, updates prices)

By Medha Singh

March 19 (Reuters) - Wall Street's main indexes climbed onTuesday, as investors hoped for a more accommodative policystance at the end of the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting thisweek.

A flurry of downbeat economic data this month has supportedmarket expectations that the Fed may reinforce a halt to furtherinterest rates hikes. The meeting concludes its deliberationswith a news conference on Wednesday.

Of particular interest to investors is the individualinterest rate forecasts of policymakers, as well as any detailson plans to reduce Fed's holdings in bonds.

"We're seeing stocks run up a little bit in anticipation ofthe Fed announcing no hike in 2019 and a curtailment of thebalance sheet runoff," said Bryan Reilly, managing director atCIBC U.S. Private Wealth Management in Boston.

The consumer discretionary sector .SPLRCD provided thebiggest boost to the benchmark S&P 500 .SPX as IncAMZN.O rose 1.9 percent.

Also supporting markets were technology .SPLRCT stocks.

Rate-sensitive financial stocks .SPSY rose 0.24 percent,boosted by the big U.S. lenders. The bank sub-sector .SPXBK gained 0.26 percent, up for the fifth straight session.

At 11:15 a.m. ET the Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI wasup 119.12 points, or 0.46 percent, at 26,033.22, crossing the26,000-point mark for the first time since March 4.

The S&P 500 .SPX was up 9.47 points, or 0.33 percent, at2,842.41 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC was up 23.66 points,or 0.31 percent, at 7,738.13.

Among the 11 major sectors, defensive utilities .SPLRCU and real estate .SPLRCR were the only two in the red whileconsumer staples .SPLRCS was flat.

Optimism that the Fed will remain less aggressive in raisingrates and hopes of a resolution to a bitter trade disputebetween the U.S. and China helped the markets claw back most oftheir losses from late last year.

The benchmark S&P 500 .SPX is at a five-month high and isjust 3.1 percent away from its record closing high in September.

Nvidia CorpNVDA.O rose 3.7 percent and boosted thePhiladelphia SE chipmakers index .SOX by 1.19 percent afterthe chip designer partnered with Softbank Group Corp9984.T and LG Uplus Corp032640.KS to deploy cloud gaming servers inJapan and Korea.

Fox CorpFOXA.O dropped 3.5 percent after its debut on theNasdaq, marking a new phase for billionaire Rupert Murdoch'smedia business after the $71 billion sale of Twenty-FirstCentury Fox Inc'sTFCFA.O film and television assets to WaltDisney Co DIS.N .

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.27-to-1 ratioon the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a1.01-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded 31 new 52-week highs and no new low,while the Nasdaq recorded 48 new highs and 20 new lows. (Reporting by Medha Singh and Shreyashi Sanyal in Bengaluru;Editing by Shounak Dasgupta) ((; within U.S. +1646 223 8780,outside U.S. +91 80 6749 1130; Reuters

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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