Stock Futures Wobble Ahead of Inflation Data

MarketsDow Jones Newswires

Investors were set to stick to the sidelines at the start of Wall Street trading Tuesday, with stock futures flat ahead of data on consumer prices, a home builders' index and the start of the Federal Reserve's last meeting of the year.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average inched up 8 points to 15820, while those for the S&P 500 index fell 0.7 point to 1779.60. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 index fell 0.75 point to 3469.25. At 8:30 a.m. EST, consumer prices for November will be released. Economists polled by MarketWatch are forecasting a rise of 0.1% and the same increase for the core rate, which strips out food and energy.

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Headline inflation fell 0.1% in the prior month. In the 12 months ended October, consumer prices rose 1%, and 1.7% on a core basis, with both well below the Fed's target of 2% to 2.5%. Current-account data for the third quarter will also be released, while later at 10 a.m. EST, an index of sentiment among home builders is expected to rise to 56 in December from 54 in November, according to economists surveyed by MarketWatch. Tuesday also marks the start of the two-day Fed meeting. A Wall Street Journal poll of economists found about one-quarter expect a taper on Wednesday, while a Bloomberg poll found 34% of economists surveyed earlier this month expect a tapering will start with the conclusion of that meeting. While the inflation and housing data will be watched for any signs of an overheating economy, analysts at Monex Capital said traders are eager to get the Fed meeting out of the way so that they can focus on preparing for the year end. However, "the fact we're continuing with these extraordinary interventions in the market means there will be no real surprise if the concept of a Santa rally passes us by this year," said the analysts in a note. The S&P 500 rose Monday, breaking a four-day losing streak as data showed upbeat business activity across the country.

The Dow industrials and Nasdaq Composite also closed higher. European stocks stepped back from the biggest rally in two months on Tuesday, as investors took to the sidelines ahead of the Fed meeting.

Those losses came even as German economic expectations blew past forecasts in December, hitting the highest level since April 2006. The euro bounced higher after that data. Gold and oil prices drifted lower. In corporate news, shares of Facebook Inc. could be in focus after The Wall Street Journal reported the social network will begin selling video advertisements later this week.

Boeing Co. could be active after the company said late Monday it would boost its quarterly dividend by 50% and its board approved $10 billion to repurchase outstanding shares, which will be added to what's left of a 2007 buyback plan.