Stocks index futures pointed to slight losses at the open on Wednesday as investors found little reason to keep buying after two gains of gains and ahead of a European summit on the region's debt crisis.
Optimism has risen in recent days that European officials would craft a bold plan, and French officials have said that French and German leaders will not leave the summit until a powerful deal was reached to tackle the crisis.
Despite that, trading has been volatile on doubts a lasting agreement will be reached. France wants to impose mandatory penalties on nations that exceed deficit targets, a plan backed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
European leaders will also discuss boosting the region's rescue fund, the Financial Times reported, another potential bullish signal for equities.
The debt crisis has pressured equities in recent weeks on halting progress in finding a resolution. Standard & Poor's has warned it might cut the sovereign credit rating of 15 euro zone countries, but optimism over the summit on December 9 has overshadowed the S&P threat.
The S&P has risen almost 9 percent since a closing low reached on November 25 on hopes for a deal.
We'll probably keep seeing volatility until we see the plan, and if it disappoints we could drop 2 or 3 percent, said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
S&P 500 futures were off 1.3 points and 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 fell 6 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 2.75 points.
Futures had been solidly higher earlier in the session, but cut their gains as European shares fell.
In another potentially market negative, China's annual rate of export growth slowed in November versus October. Investors are worried slowing growth in China will hurt the U.S. recovery.
Regional banks will be in focus a day after S&P cut credit ratings for US Bancorp , PNC Financial Services Group Inc , and BB&T Corp in the wake of new grading criteria.
J.C. Penney Co Inc will buy a 16.6 percent stake in Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc for $38.5 million, the New York Times reported, citing sources. Shares of Martha Stewart jumped 28 percent to $4 in premarket trading.
Alpha Natural Resources Inc has agreed to pay $1.5 million to each of the families of 29 miners killed in an explosion at a West Virginia mine last year. The stock fell 1.1 percent to $24.60 before the bell.
U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday as investors bet European leaders would take strong steps to end the debt crisis.
(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)