US STOCKS-S&P inches higher as ECB signals gradual rate hikes


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    * U.S. retail sales in May beat expectations
    * Comcast jumps after making $65 bln offer for Fox
    * Bank stocks drop on concerns about yield curve flattening
    * Dow down 0.11 pct, S&P up 0.20 pct, Nasdaq up 0.74 pct  

 (Updates to early afternoon)
    By Sruthi Shankar
    June 14 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ticked higher on Thursday,
after the European Central Bank signaled that any interest rate
hike was still far away, even as it moved to end its 2.55
trillion euro stimulus program by the end of the year.
    The ECB's statement came as a relief, especially after the
Federal Reserve raised rates for the second time this year on
Wednesday and hinted at two more hikes by the end of 2018.*:nL8N1TG0UZ
    Technology stocks were the biggest gainers, with Facebook
 FB.O  and Alphabet  GOOGL.O  leading the pack, while bank
shares took a hit and weighed on the benchmark S&P 500  .SPX .
    "The Fed rate increases, the ECB's decision to end its bond
buying program, it suggests higher rates down the road," said
Rick Meckler, partner, Cherry Lane Investments in New Vernon,
New Jersey. 
    "For the most part it's a positive because they feel the
economy is strong enough to handle that." 
    U.S. retail sales rose more than expected in May to post 
its biggest advance since November 2017, while another report
showed number of Americans on jobless rolls fell to a near
44-1/2-year low.*:nL1N1TF1ZT
    Meckler said reaction was mixed to the policy announcements,
as markets were split between "those that think the economy is
very strong and those who are concerned about inflation."
    At 12:55 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average  .DJI 
was down 26.64 points, or 0.11 percent, at 25,174.56, the S&P
500  .SPX  was up 5.66 points, or 0.20 percent, at 2,781.29 and
the Nasdaq Composite  .IXIC  was up 56.87 points, or 0.74
percent, at 7,752.57.
    J.P Morgan Chase's  JPM.N  1.9 percent fall was the biggest
drag on the S&P 500. The financial index  .SPSY  was down 0.96
percent, the biggest loser among the major S&P sectors.
    "You have the yield curve continuing to flatten, which is
not great for financial stocks," said Michael Antonelli,
managing director, institutional sales trading at Robert W.
Baird in Milwaukee.
    The yield spread between U.S. 30-year bonds and U.S. 5-year
notes narrowed to the flattest level since January 2012 after
the Fed decision on Wednesday.
    Comcast  CMCSA.O  jumped 3.9 percent after the company
offered Twenty-First Century Fox  FOXA.O  $65 billion to lure it
away from a merger with Walt Disney  DIS.N .*:nL4N1TF5B8
    Disney also rose 1.9 percent and Fox was up 1.9 percent.
    Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 1.32-to-1 ratio
on the NYSE and for a 1.14-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.
    The S&P index recorded 30 new 52-week highs and one new low,
while the Nasdaq recorded 133 new highs and 20 new lows.

 (Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil
 ((; within U.S. +1 646 223
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