U.S. stock index futures point to a slightly higher open on Wednesday ahead of the release of the Census Bureau's durable goods orders data and the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index report.
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.07 percent, futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were up 0.06 percent and those on the Nasdaq 100 Index were up 0.05 percent.
Durable goods orders, which measure the change in the total value of new orders for long-lasting manufactured goods, are expected to decline by 4.4 percent in January after gaining 4.3 percent in December. The core durable goods orders for January, which will exclude transportation items, are expected to gain 0.2 percent after increasing 1 percent in December.
Investors are also likely to focus on the National Association of Realtors' (NAR) Pending Home Sales Index report, which measures the change in the number of homes under contract to be sold but still awaiting the closing transaction, excluding new construction, to be reported after the opening bell. It is expected that the report will show a 3 percent rise in January after declining 4.3 percent the previous month.
Also, market participants are likely to continue to focus on earnings reports, with Joy Global Inc. (NYSE:JOY), Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT), TJX Companies Inc. (NYSE:TJX), Limited Brands Inc. (NYSE:LTD), J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE:JCP) and Groupon Inc. (NASDAQ:GRPN) expected to report their quarterly results Wednesday.
U.S. stock markets ended with gains on Tuesday as sentiment was supported by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's stimulus reassurances and stronger-than-expected reports on new home sales and consumer confidence. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.84 percent, the S&P 500 Index was up 0.61 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.43 percent.
Data released by the Census Bureau showed that new home sales surged to a four-and-a-half-year high of 437,000 in January from 378,000 in December and topped analysts’ estimate of 381,000. The consumer confidence index rose to 69.6 in February, the highest reading since November, up from January’s reading of 61.0; analysts had forecast another reading of 61.0 for February.
Bernanke, in his semi-annual testimony before Congress on Tuesday, strongly defended the Fed's bond-buying stimulus program by saying that the benefits to the economy outweigh the costs. Bernanke also urged lawmakers to avoid sharp spending cuts set to take effect Friday, warning that they could hamper the country's recovery efforts.
European stock markets advanced in early trading after plunging in the previous session. London's FTSE 100 gained 0.46 percent, France's CAC-40 advanced 0.45 percent and Germany's DAX rose 0.33 percent.
Asian stock markets mostly advanced Wednesday after Bernanke’s congressional testimony on monetary policy. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.25 percent, China's Shanghai Composite advanced 0.87 percent and India’s BSE Sensex rose 0.87 percent, while Japan’s Nikkei declined 1.27 percent as a stronger yen weighed on export companies' shares.