Stock index futures pointed to a mixed to higher open on Wednesday as investors await key housing data which may bolster optimism the recession is abating.

Sales of existing homes are expected to have risen at an annual rate of 4.66 million units, according to the median forecast of 66 economists polled by Reuters, as low interest rates, low home prices and government stimulus stir buying interest. The report is due at 10 a.m.

There is hope that the worst in the decline in the global economy is past us and we should begin to see improvement in global economic activity, said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners in New York.

The real focus obviously will be on existing home sales so any slight improvement in the existing home sales data will extend the rally.

S&P 500 futures rose 1.30 points and were above 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 added 18 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures were off 2.25 points.

General Motors Corp shares slumped 7.6 percent to $1.33 in premarket trade as the largest U.S. automaker prepared for the fallout from a failed debt exchange which pushes the company closer to a bankruptcy filing expected by the end of the month.

U.S. front month crude prices rose to $62.82 and broke above the 200-day moving average on Wednesday, lending support to the view that oil has a new price floor at $60 a barrel.

European shares rose in early trade on Wednesday, lifted by banks and tracking gains in overnight markets as U.S. consumer confidence data raised hoped of an economic recovery.

Asian shares hit a seven-month high on Wednesday and oil prices lingered near their highest level since November, as the consumer confidence reading in the U.S. reinforced a view the global recession has bottomed.

Office products retailer Staples reported adjusted first-quarter earnings that were a penny above Wall Street forecasts, boosted by cost savings in its Corporate Express unit.

Other corporate earnings expected for Wednesday include AutoZone Inc and Polo Ralph Lauren Corp . Through Tuesday, 97 percent of S&P 500 companies had reported earnings, with 65 percent topping Wall Street estimates.

Also on the housing front, the Mortgage Bankers Association said that the highest home loan rates in more than two months drained demand for refinancing last week, dragging total U.S. mortgage applications to the lowest level since early march.

U.S. stocks climbed more than 2 percent on Tuesday as data showing the biggest monthly jump in consumer confidence in six years lifted hopes of an economic rebound while a brokerage upgrade of Apple Inc drove sharp gains on the Nasdaq.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 196.17 points, or 2.37 percent, to 8,473.49. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 23.33 points, or 2.63 percent, to 910.33. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> climbed 58.42 points, or 3.45 percent, to 1,750.43.

Tuesday's gains enabled the blue-chip Dow to reclaim nearly 90 percent of its declines from the previous four sessions.

Since reaching a low in early March, the Dow has gained more than 29 percent and the S&P 500 has risen nearly 35 percent.