Stock Futures Nudge Higher; Housing Data on Tap

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U.S. stock-index futures advanced on Wednesday amid optimism that the batch of of U.S. housing data slated for release later in the morning will show continued improvement for the world's biggest economy.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:52 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures climbed 10 points to 13118, S&P 500 futures gained 0.5 point to 1401 and Nasdaq 100 futures slipped 1 point to 2735.

Wall Street has been on a mostly upward path in recent weeks; however, worries about China's economy led the S&P 500 to take its second fall in 10 days on Tuesday. The focus has shifted back to the U.S. on Wednesday.

Sales of existing, single-family U.S. homes may have climbed to an annual rate of 4.62 million units in February from 4.57 million the month prior, economists said ahead of the 10:00 a.m. ET release from the National Association of Realtors. A separate report on Tuesday showed permits to build new homes hitting the highest level since October 2008 during the month of February.

The housing market has begun to show some signs of improvement, but still remains very fragile. To that end, the Federal Reserve has held interest rates at extraordinarily low levels in a bid to keep mortgage and other loan rates down and boost the embattled sector. Still, it remains a soft spot of the U.S. economy.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will tell the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday that the European debt crisis still poses a threat to large U.S. financial institutions and money market funds, according to testimony obtained first by FOX Business. While the crisis has faded from the headlines in recent weeks, analysts at several large investment banks have repeatedly noted that the debt situation in numerous big eurozone countries, namely Italy and Spain, could still stir trouble in the 17-member currency bloc.

On the corporate front, Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) unveiled plans a corporate restructuring in which it will merge its personal computer and printer groups. The combined entity will be led by Todd Bradley, who ran the PC group.

Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL) posted third-quarter results after the close of trading on Tuesday that zipped past Wall Street's expectations on the top and bottom lines. The software company's shares were up more than 2%. General Mills (NYSE:GIS), the maker of Cheerios, also delivered a sales and profit beat ahead of the opening bell in New York.

Hartford Financial Group (NYSE:HIG) said it would exit the annuities business and mull the sale of its life insurance group as it focuses its property-insurance business amid pressure from hedge fund mogul and major shareholder John Paulson.

U.S. Treasuries fell modestly on the heels of the first gain in six days for the safe-haven asset. The 10-year yield rose 0.006-percentage point to 2.363%.

Energy futures were mixed. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York rose 44 cents, or 0.41%, to $106.52 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.1% to $3.36 a gallon.

In metals, gold gained $4.00, or 0.24%, to $1,651 a troy once.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips were flat, the English FTSE 100 edged higher by 0.04% to 5894 and the German DAX climbed 0.25% to 7072.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 slumped 0.55% to 10086 and the Chinese Hang Seng ticked lower by 0.15% to 20857.

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