Stock futures flat after IMF cuts outlook, earnings eyed

U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Tuesday even after the IMF issued the latest forecast of slower global growth, leaving investors little reason to buy equities before the start of the U.S. quarterly earnings season.

The International Monetary Fund cut its projected global output for 2012 to 3.3 percent from 3.5 percent and forecast 3.6 percent growth next year. The international lender warned that a lack of action by U.S. and European policymakers to fix their economic problems could extend the current slump.

The IMF warnings come on the heels of a lowered forecast for growth in the East Asia-Pacific region by the World Bank on concerns China's slowdown could last longer than expected.

Repeated warnings about the economy have left investors cautious before what could be a disappointing earnings season after a rally that has pushed the S&P 500 up nearly 16 percent so far in 2012, lifting it to its highest in nearly five years.

But the market has remained stuck in a range for the past few days as investors wait to see how if there are any earnings surprises and what companies expect in the fourth quarter.

"You really have the headwind of slowing economic growth. The IMF warning is just another piece of evidence of that against the backdrop of incredibly loose monetary policy just holding everything in place," said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York.

"There isn't really the earnings strength to take the market out of this range," he added

Analysts forecast third-quarter earnings of S&P 500 companies would fall 2.3 percent from the year-ago quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data, which would be the first drop in U.S. quarterly earnings in three years.

Earnings season gets under way when Dow component Alcoa Inc reports quarterly earnings. Analysts expect Alcoa's third-quarter results to show the aluminum company broke even, down from a profit of 15 cents per share a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Among large multinationals that have warned about earnings, citing weakness in Europe and China, are FedEx Corp , Caterpillar Inc and Hewlett-Packard Co .

S&P 500 futures added 1 point and were roughly even with fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures shed 6 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 3 points.

Investors were also eyeing a euro zone finance ministers' meeting and a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Greece for any signs of progress in dealing with the region's debt crisis.

On Monday, the euro zone finance ministers and the IMF held a "thorough and robust" debate on Greece but failed to make significant progress in deciding how best to get the country back on track with its bailout program.

According to data, 91 companies in the S&P 500 have issued negative outlooks versus 21 positive pre-announcements, for a ratio of 4.3, the weakest showing since the third quarter of 2001.

Edwards Lifesciences Corp cut its revenue forecast for the third quarter, as sales of the medical device maker's heart valve that was expected to drive results fell short of estimates. Shares plunged 14.4 percent to $91.90 in premarket trade.

Spectrum Brands Holdings Inc , the maker of Rayovac batteries and other consumer products, said it will buy a unit of Stanley Black & Decker Inc that makes door locks and bath fixtures for $1.4 billion.

European shares gave up early gains and turned negative as concerns over slowing global growth and its impact on corporate earnings weighed, although charts signaled a bounce back.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)