Futures higher after sell-off, ADP report awaited

By @ibtimes on

Stock index futures were slightly higher on Wednesday, stabilizing a day after a surge in oil prices led to a heavy sell-off.

Energy remained in focus as tensions ratcheted up in Libya. A civilian uprising continued, and two U.S. amphibious assault ships entered Egypt's Suez Canal on their way to the Mediterranean.

Crude oil futures was little changed but near the psychologically key $100 a barrel. Investors are concerned rising energy costs could slow economic activity.

A lot of discretionary spending is psychologically driven, and sustained $100 oil seems to be the number that could cause consumers to pull back, said Kim Caughey Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburg. If they pull back too much, that could be enough to make this weak economic recovery stop.

In an interview with CNBC television, Berkshire Hathaway Inc chairman Warren Buffett said oil disruptions were a rational concern. He also forecast a decline in the unemployment rate through the 2012 elections.

The ADP employment report will be released at 8:15 a.m. EST and is expected to show 175,000 were added by private employers in February, compared with 187,000 the month before.

ADP hasn't been a good predictor of monthly payrolls, said Caughey Forrest, referring to the February jobs report due Friday. But if it comes in below consensus that will still dampen everyone's spirits.

S&P 500 futures rose 2.1 points but were slightly under 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 12 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures were up 4.5 points.

Investors will watch Apple Inc shares as the technology giant prepares to unveil the second version of its popular iPad tablet computer, though the longer-term share reaction to the new product may be less robust. The stock edged 0.4 percent higher to $350.73 in premarket trading.

Costco Wholesale Corp reported second-quarter earnings and revenue that rose from the prior year, while Staples Inc posted fourth-quarter profit that missed expectations by a penny.

PPL Corp agreed to buy German utility E.ON AG's UK power networks for $5.6 billion.

Concerns about rising oil prices prompted investors on Tuesday to sell stocks and hedge against further declines. The CBOE Volatility Index VIX <.VIX>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, jumped 14.5 percent on the uncertainty.

(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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