Stocks looked set to open lower on Wednesday, with the focus on economic data for clues about the outlook for growth and the Federal Reserve's next monetary policy move.
Worries about the still escalating U.S. housing crisis and its implications for the overall economy point to a subdued start to the new year, Germany's Postbank said in a daily note.
Citigroup, in a 2008 strategy outlook note dated December 31, said markets were dominated by heightened risk awareness.
More uncertainty surrounds the global economic outlook now than at any time in the past few years, Citigroup said, adding: (U.S.) Recession or no recession? This remains the crucial macro question for 2008.
Italian bank UniCredit said U.S. economic data over the next few days, including manufacturing ISM on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. EST, will give a clear indication whether the Fed will cut rates by the end of the month.
Economists polled by Reuters expect a manufacturing ISM reading of 50.4, down from 50.8 for November.
The U.S. central bank's monetary policy setting Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) holds its next meeting on interest rates January 29-30.
The U.S. economy needs continued aggressive Fed easing over the coming months to avoid a turn for the worse, Goldman Sachs said in a note.
No major U.S. companies are scheduled to report results on Wednesday.
Stocks in focus could include mortgage and vehicle fleet company PHH (PHH.N) after it terminated its nearly $2 billion sale to General Electric (GE.N) and Blackstone (BX.N) after the latter failed to obtain financing for the deal.
PHH's Frankfurt-listed shares traded 3.9 percent lower at 5:25 a.m. EST.
The indicative Dow Jones index (.DJII), which tracks how the Dow stocks are traded in Frankfurt, was down 0.1 percent, and Dow Jones futures also traded 0.1 percent lower at 5:25 a.m. EST.
The minutes of the December 11 FOMC meeting are due for release at 2:00 p.m. EST.
Markets dislocations and heightened macroeconomic concerns are expected to (have been) the focus of the discussion. Possible hawkish signals may only stem from the inflationary threat, UniCredit said.
On Monday, the last day of 2007, U.S. stocks fell and all three major Wall Street indexes recorded fourth-quarter losses.
The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI) fell 0.76 percent on Monday to end the year at 13,264.82 points.
The S&P 500 (.SPX) slipped 0.69 percent to 1,468.36, and the Nasdaq (.IXIC) dropped 0.83 percent to 2,652.28.
(Reporting by Peter Starck, editing by Will Waterman)