Wednesday, December 28, 2011

US STOCKS-Futures edge higher after Italian auction

NEW YORK (Dec 28): U.S. stock index futures edged higher on Wednesday in what looks to be another low-volume session, with investors waiting for the start of 2012 before betting on risky assets.

Equities ended mostly unchanged on Tuesday on about half of the year's daily average volume as investors paused following a 5 percent gain in the previous week. Markets may continue to struggle for direction, with no major economic indicators on tap or S&P 500 companies scheduled to report quarterly results until January.

European shares were modestly higher on light volume, rising 0.5 percent after short-term Italian debt costs were cut in half at an auction, which improved confidence about demand for Thursday's Italian long-term bond sale.

"This portends good news and is a positive as the European Union tries to become more stable," said Tim Speiss, head of personal wealth advisors at EisnerAmper in New York. "However, with the limited participation, I still expect today to be fairly quiet and flat."

Wall Street movements have been closely correlated to European markets in recent weeks as the region deals with a debt crisis, but the problems have receded into the background with the lack of new developments. Still, any sign of improving conditions could spur further gains, with the light volume amplifying any moves.

S&P 500 futures rose 3.2 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 22 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures put on 5 points.

For the year, the Dow is up 6.2 percent, while the S&P is up 0.6 percent, and the Nasdaq is down 1 percent.

Energy shares may be in focus after Iran's navy chief said it would be "easier than drinking a glass of water" for Iran to close off the Strait of Hormuz, and choke off oil supplies, if foreign sanctions are tightened.

"While OPEC has already offered to step in and make up for any shortfall, meaning we may not see an impact in prices for a while, this brings up the issue of stability in the Middle East, so it could be very significant," Speiss said. "A disruption of oil shipments globally could have a significant impact on prices."

U.S. crude futures fell 0.6 percent, while Brent crude was off 1 percent.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission won a delay in its securities fraud lawsuit against Citigroup Inc as the regulator tries to appeal a judge's decision to reject its $285 million settlement with the bank.

U.S. stocks ended flat on Tuesday after fluctuating between small gains and losses in light volume as investors took a breather following last week's rally. A stronger-than-expected reading on consumer confidence added credence to the idea that the economy was growing faster than previously thought. - Reuters

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