U.S. stock index futures were flat on Thursday as investors awaited the latest housing and jobless data and continued to digest a policy statement from the Federal Reserve that sent shares lower in the last session.
In a sign the housing recovery is gathering momentum, sales of existing homes are expected to have risen for a fifth consecutive month in August, reaching their highest level in two years as buyers take advantage of a first-time home buyer tax credit.
Dan Greenhaus, an analyst at Miller Tabak & Co in New York, said strong housing numbers will fuel the debate on whether the housing recovery can continue once tax credits are withdrawn.
Just about more than anything right now, that is where the focus should lie, he said. Its importance with respect to the economy right now is increasing with every passing day.
A survey of 71 economists polled by Reuters forecast sales of previously owned homes climbed to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.35 million in August, the fastest pace since 5.5 million units were sold in August 2007, and up from 5.24 million units in July.
Economists in a Reuters poll expect weekly initial jobless claims rose by 5,000 to 550,000 after the number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly fell last week. The soft labor market is a source of ongoing concern for investors worried about the affect of layoffs on household income.
Monthly existing home sales data are due at 10.00 a.m. (1400 GMT), while weekly jobless claims are due at 08.30 a.m. (1230 GMT).
A meeting of the Group of 20 nations leaders in Pittsburgh starts on Thursday, and investors are looking for clues on when governments might start rolling back measures to revive their economies as well as beef up regulation on the financial markets. [ID:nN24427327]
S&P 500 futures SPc1 fell 0.1 point 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 DJc1 lost 1 point and Nasdaq 100 futures NDc1 rose 1.75 points.
Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) poured cold water on rumors it would acquire Electronic Arts Inc (ERTS.O), saying it does not intend to buy the video game publisher. Electronic Arts shares fell 3.1 percent before the bell after jumping more than 8 percent in the previous session.
Abbott Laboratories (ABT.N) made an offer to buy the drug unit of Belgian conglomerate Solvay SA (SOLB.BR), the Wall Street Journal said, citing people familiar with the matter. The move has raised the prospect of a bidding war for the unit. (Reporting by Edward Krudy; editing by Padraic Cassidy)