US STOCKS-Wall St set for flat open as housing data eyed

Tue Mar 23, 2010 8:45am EDT

* Existing home sales seen slipping

* Monetary policy to remain accommodative-Fed official

* Futures: S&P down 0.1, Dow up 2 pts, Nasdaq up 0.75

* For up-to-the-minute market news, click [STXNEWS/US] (Recasts, adds quote, details)

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set for a flat open on Tuesday as investors awaited data on the housing market, which remains one of the weakest segments of the economy.

Existing home sales for February will be released at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). Sales are expected to slip to 5 million in February from 5.05 million the month before, according to Reuters data. Other data includes the FHFA House Price Index for January, also at 10:00 a.m. See [ECI/US]

"Existing home sales should bring some clarity to the economic picture. A positive number will add confidence the economy is on the right track and that the recession has been contained," said Andre Bakhos, president of Princeton Financial Group in North Brunswick, New Jersey.

Investors are eyeing a European Union summit later in the week that will tackle Greece's fiscal problems. Greece wants a European solution to its debt crisis and expects positive results from the summit, the country's finance minister said.

While German Chancellor Angela Merkel continued to rebuff calls for a support deal on Monday, a German newspaper reported EU leaders are aiming to present a compromise on aid for Greece before the start of the summit on Thursday. [ID:nLDE62M0LS] [ID:nBAT005259]

Lending support to the market, a top Federal Reserve official said unacceptably high unemployment and well-contained inflation make it likely that U.S. monetary policy will continue to be accommodative for at least several more months. For details, see [ID:nTOE62M039]

Shares of Baidu Inc (BIDU.O) gained 2.3 percent to $593.06 before the opening bell after rival Google Inc (GOOG.O) shut down its mainland Chinese portal and began rerouting searches to its Hong Kong website. [ID:nTOE62M01C]

Walgreen Co's (WAG.N) shares rose 1.2 percent to $35.75 after the top U.S. drugstore chain reported higher quarterly profit as it discounted less seasonal merchandise. [ID:nN23160924]

S&P 500 futures SPc1 off 0.1 points but 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 DJc1 gained 2 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures NDc1 up 0.75 points.

The S&P 500 has gained 5.6 percent so far this month as the market has added another leg to a rally that began more than a year ago. The Dow rebounded to finish at a 17-month high on Monday, racking up its ninth gain in 10 sessions.

The fact that the market has defied some expectations for a significant correction "is telling us that six to 12 months down the road we're going to be in far better shape than many are expecting in terms of the overall economy," said Peter Kenny, managing director at Knight Equity Markets in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)