Wall Street set to open higher on "fiscal cliff" progress


Stock futures pointed to a higher open on Tuesday, extending a rally that lifted the S&P 500 to its highest in nearly two months, as optimism grew that a deal would be made to avert the "fiscal cliff."

Investors have been reluctant to make big bets in the face of uncertainty over the cliff, a combination of steep tax hikes and spending cuts that could hurt the U.S. economy if they take effect next year.

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But hopes for a deal grew Monday night as President Barack Obama made a counter-offer to Republicans that included a major change in position on tax hikes for the wealthy, according to a source familiar with the talks.

The report followed a meeting between Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who has edged closer to Obama's position by proposing higher taxes on those who earn $1 million or more and extending lower tax rates for everyone else.

Many investors fear that going over the fiscal cliff could push the U.S. economy back into recession.

"Neither side appears to be digging in their heels so much, and that increases the optimism there might be a deal," said Oliver Pursche, president of Gary Goldberg Financial Services in Suffern, New York. "Political risks have been the main thing suppressing market gains, so if those abate we could see a rally that is significant."

S&P 500 futures rose 3.4 points and were above 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 added 24 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 12.75 points.

European shares <.FTEU3> rose 0.3 percent on Monday, while January crude futures were up 0.6 percent. The MSCI index of global stocks <.MIWD00000PUS> rose 0.2 percent.

The New York Times said that Wal-Mart Stores Inc's Mexican affiliate routinely used bribes to open stores in desirable locations. The story cited 19 instances of the retail giant paying off local officials. In a statement Monday night, Wal-Mart spokesman David Tovar said the company was looking into the allegations.

Arbitron Inc surged 24 percent to $47.31 in premarket trading after Nielsen Holdings NV agreed to buy the media and marketing research firm in a deal worth $1.26 billion. Nielsen rose 3 percent to $30.50 before the bell.

Tech shares will also be in view as Oracle Corp reports results after the market closes. The company is seen posting profit growth of more than 10 percent but a 2.3 percent dip in revenue, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Reporting quarterly results early on Tuesday, Sanderson Farms Inc posted a better-than-expected profit, helped by rising poultry prices. The stock rose 2.5 percent to $50.99.

Baker Hughes Inc said third-quarter margins and revenue would be below its expectations because of lower land drilling activity and price erosion, sending shares down 3.2 percent to $39.33 in premarket trading.

Current account figures showed a deficit of $107.5 billion in the third quarter, wider than the $103.4 billion that had been expected in a Reuters survey forecast.

Hopes for a fiscal cliff deal lifted shares on Monday, breaking a two-day decline for the S&P. The Dow and Nasdaq surged more than 1 percent in Monday's session, while all 10 S&P 500 sectors ended higher.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)