U.S. stock index futures fell in volatile trade on Wednesday as Japan struggled with a nuclear crisis and as clashes in Bahrain lifted oil prices, with uncertainty set to drive near-term trading.
Japan's stock market rebounded from sharp losses but another fire broke out at an earthquake-crippled nuclear facility, which has sent low levels of radiation toward Tokyo in the past 24 hours, triggering fears of a meltdown.
Brent crude rose 2 percent to nearly $111 a barrel, rebounding from a three-week low as Bahraini forces, backed by helicopters, fired tear gas on protesters and hospital sources said several police and protesters had been killed.
There is a perfect storm of uncertainty right now in terms of global growth and markets are taking that into account, said Oliver Pursche, president at Gary Goldberg Financial Services in Suffern, New York.
S&P 500 futures lost 2.4 points and were below 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 dipped 9 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 1.5 points.
Japan's Nikkei average closed up 5.7 percent on Wednesday as hedge funds rushed to cover short positions after the worst two-day rout since the 1987 crash.
In a second day of losses tied to Japan, the S&P 500 fell to within 4 points of its 2010 close on Tuesday. The index dropped more than 2 percent in early trade before rebounding, and the Nasdaq briefly turned negative for the year.
Some investors have been using the sell-off to buy stock in the belief the longer-term outlook for the U.S. economy remained strong, a factor that could limit losses.
We are looking at the sell-off in particular in energy and agriculture as an opportunity to add to our positions, said Pursche. We think that this a pretty good entry point.
Muammar Gaddafi's forces pushed toward the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi and the government predicted victory within days, while world powers debated imposing a no-fly zone to help stop him.
On the economic front, the Producer Price Index for February will be released at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Economists forecast a 0.7 percent rise, compared with a 0.8 percent increase in January.
Also at 8.30 a.m., the Commerce Department releases housing starts and permits for February. Economists forecast starts fell to a 570,000 annualized rate from 596,000 in January, and a total of 570,000 permits were expected in February compared with 563,000 in the prior month.
(Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)