US STOCKS-Consumer, health stocks lift Wall St ahead of Yellen

By Tanya Agrawal

May 27 (Reuters) - Wall Street was higher in late morning trading on Friday, with the S&P 500 on track for its largest weekly gain since March, helped by gains in consumer discretionary and health stocks and ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen.

Investors are looking for clues on the timing of the next rate hike from Yellen's speech, which comes after comments from several policymakers earlier this week that the U.S. economy has the capacity to absorb a rate hike.

Yellen is due to speak at an event hosted by Harvard University at 1:15 p.m. ET (1715 GMT).

A rate increase in June was seen as highly unlikely until recently. However, the Fed funds futures are now pricing in a 25 percent chance of a rate hike in June and 45 percent in July after a string of strong data and comments from Fed officials.

The Fed next meets on June 14-15.

"I think Yellen's speech on June 6 would be a better indicator for when the next rate hike will come because by then we'll have the May unemployment data too," said Tim Dreiling, regional investment director at U.S. Bank's Private Client Reserve.

"While there is plenty to be happy about with regard to the economic data, the strong dollar will continue to put pressure on manufacturers, and I'd still like to see some growth in earnings."

At 11:00 a.m. EDT the Dow Jones industrial average was up 22.29 points, or 0.13 percent, at 17,850.58, the S&P 500 was up 4.44 points, or 0.21 percent, at 2,094.54 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 17.27 points, or 0.35 percent, at 4,919.04.

Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were higher, with the consumer discretionary and health indexes leading the gainers.

AbbVie's 1.7 percent rise boosted the health index, while Ulta Salon Cosmetics and Fragrance's 9 percent jump lifted the consumer discretionary index.

Data on Friday showed the U.S. economic growth slowed in the first quarter although not as sharply as initially thought.

Gross domestic product rose at a 0.8 percent annual rate as opposed to the 0.5 percent pace reported last month - the slowest growth since the first quarter of 2015. Economists polled by Reuters expected a 0.9 percent growth rate.

Wall Street closed mostly flat on Thursday as investors took a breather following two days of strong gains.

Cyber security firm Palo Alto's shares were down 12.2 percent at $130 after posting a wider-than-expected quarterly loss.

GameStop fell 6.3 percent to $28.08 after the video-game retailer forecast lower-than-expected revenue and profit for the current quarter.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 1,758 to 1,064. On the Nasdaq, 1,639 issues rose and 900 fell.

The S&P 500 index showed 17 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 43 new highs and 12 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Anil D'Silva)

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