Stock futures point to mixed opening after worse-than-expected housing report

By Stephen Bernard, AP
Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stock futures point to mixed opening

NEW YORK — Stock futures are falling modestly, pointing to a mixed opening after a new report showed housing starts dropped unexpectedly in October.

A report on inflation showed consumer prices continue to remain in check.

The Commerce Department says construction of new homes and apartments fell 10.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 529,000 units. Economists forecast a rate of 600,000.

The Labor Department says consumer prices rose 0.3 percent last month, just above the 0.2 percent predicted by economists.

Dow Jones industrial average futures are down 2, or less than 0.1 percent, at 10,396. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures are up 0.10, or less than 0.1 percent, at 1,107.50, while Nasdaq 100 index futures are down 5.50, or 0.3 percent, at 1.803.25.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures are little changed ahead of Wednesday’s opening as investors await a new report on the housing market and the dollar resumed its slide.

Overseas, Asian markets declined while European markets were trading higher.

Investors are setting their sights on the housing sector, after retailers took center stage the past two days. A new report on housing starts and building permits is due to be released at 8:30 a.m. EST.

The Commerce Department report is expected to show construction of new homes and apartments grew 1.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 600,000 in October, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters. Building permits, seen as a good indicator of future activity, are expected to edge up 1.2 percent to an annual rate of 580,000 units.

The real estate sector was among the hardest hit in recent years, helping throw the country into recession. Investors are hoping to see continued improvement in sales and prices as they hunt for signs of recovery.

A government tax credit for first-time homebuyers, which was extended through June, has helped the market in recent months. The tax credit was set to expire at the end of November before being extended.

Stocks have often been moving in the opposite direction of the dollar in recent months as a weakening dollar boosts demand for commodities. That, in turn, strengthens shares of energy and materials companies.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 8, or 0.1 percent, to 10,406. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures rose 0.90, or 0.1 percent, to 1,108.30, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 0.25, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1.809.00.

A report is also due out on inflation at the retail level. The Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index, likely rose 0.2 percent in October, economists predicted. That would match September’s increase. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, “core” consumer prices likely rose 0.1 percent last month.

The report is scheduled to be released at 8:30 a.m. EST.

Inflation continues to be of little concern to the market as rising unemployment, nervous consumers and tight credit have kept prices stable. A report released Tuesday on prices at the wholesale level showed rapid inflation was not imminent, backing up commentary from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s comments made earlier in the week.

On Tuesday, markets moved modestly higher amid a mixed bag of earnings and economic reports. A strengthening dollar and weaker-than-expected report on industrial production helped keep demand for stocks in check. Better-than-expected results from major retailers helped, as investors searched for signs that the consumer spending sector was starting to recover.

The dollar fell Wednesday against other major currencies, while gold prices rose, touching a new record high. Gold rose $7.70 to $1,147.10 an ounce, after rising as high as $1,149.60 earlier in the day.

Bond prices fell. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.35 percent from 3.33 percent late Tuesday. The yield on the three-month T-bill, considered one of the safest investments, rose to 0.06 percent from 0.04 percent.

Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.6 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.4 percent, Germany’s DAX index gained 0.8 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.6 percent.

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