U.S. stocks were set to rise at the open on Wednesday as investors bet the upcoming earnings season and more merger activity will continue to lift equities higher.
The S&P 500 struggled for a third day on Tuesday to close above a key resistance level at 1,333. But futures hovered near the highest levels in a month and pointed to a pop at the open that could bring more buyers on expectations of a technical breakout.
We bumped up with resistance and are getting a little bit of consolidation, but once we get through this earnings season, we'll continue to move higher, said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. I still think there's plenty of room to go higher.
He said the cash war chest held by major corporations will continue to fuel mergers and acquisitions as well as share buybacks, supporting further gains in stocks.
Miner shares could see increased interest as gold prices rallied to a record high against a backdrop of a weaker U.S. dollar and investor worries over inflation and unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. Silver touched a fresh 31-year peak.
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S&P 500 futures rose 7.5 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration of the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 62 points and Nasdaq 100 futures added 17 points.
After hitting its lowest in more than two years in January, the relative performance of the Dow industrials against the broader S&P 500 has held above 1 and is on an uptrend as blue chips grab investors' attention amid uncertainty over the Middle East and the impact of Japan's earthquake.
Purchases of major items sent German industrial orders soaring above expectations in February, data showed on Wednesday, in a sign Europe's largest economy was further outshining its peers. Orders grew by 2.4 percent on the month, compared to the Reuters forecast for an increase of 0.6 percent.
The euro rose to a 14-month high against the U.S. dollar, ahead of an expected interest rate rise by the European Central Bank on Thursday. Traders also cited buying by Asian central banks.
With a U.S. government shutdown looming, congressional negotiators will meet again on Wednesday and could be called to the White House for a second meeting to search for a deal on federal budget cuts.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by Kenneth Barry)