* Futures off: Dow 86 pts, S&P 7 pts, Nasdaq 15 pts
* Alibaba shares tick lower as lock-up set to expire
* FedEx falls after lower outlook
* U.S. crude futures hit fresh 6-year low (Updates prices, adds comment)
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, March 18 (Reuters) – U.S. stocks were set to fall at the open on Wednesday ahead of a highly anticipated statement and news conference by the Federal Reserve later in the session, with the Fed expected to give clearer clues on how soon it plans to tighten monetary policy.
The U.S. central bank is expected to provide indications on the timing of its first interest rate hike in nearly a decade, as it assesses whether the U.S. economic recovery can hold up against collapsing oil prices and a soaring dollar.
A Fed statement is due at 2:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), with a press conference by Chair Janet Yellen half an hour later.
The U.S. dollar has strengthened against most major currencies as central banks around the world ease monetary policy while the Fed is on track to tighten.
“It’s mostly posturing ahead of the Fed,” said Jim Paulsen, chief investment officer at Wells Capital Management in Minneapolis, referring to the drop in equity futures.
“I think the (stock) market is going to have trouble with interest rates the rest of the year.”
U.S. crude fell for a seventh straight session, hitting a fresh six-year low at $ 42.05 per barrel. It was last down 2.8 percent at $ 42.23.
“Oil might be pressuring things a little bit,” said Paulsen. “There’s a lot in there for the market to be very volatile today.”
S&P 500 e-mini futures were down 7 points and fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract, indicated a lower open. Dow Jones industrial average e-mini futures fell 86 points and Nasdaq 100 e-mini futures lost 15 points.
A lock-up period in Alibaba shares expires Wednesday, freeing some 437 million Alibaba shares for sale. A larger lock-up of more than a billion shares expires in September. The stock hit a high of $ 120 in November and closed Tuesday at $ 84.50, about 24 percent above its IPO price. Shares fell 0.8 percent in premarket trading.
FedEx shares fell 1.7 percent after the package delivery company forecast full-year profit below analyst forecasts.
Oracle rose 2.2 percent a day after it posted flat third-quarter revenue and slightly lower profit. However, it raised its quarterly dividend 25 percent to 15 cents a share.
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)
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