US STOCKS - Futures up ahead of data; Oracle climbs
* Existing home sales data on tap
* Oracle tops expectations, shares climb
* Futures up: Dow 20 pts, S&P 2.8 pts, Nasdaq 5 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, March 21 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures rose o n Wednesday ahead of data on the housing market after the S&P 500 snapped a three-day winning streak in the prior session.
* Equities fell for the first time in four sessions and second in the past ten o n T uesday as a warning about China's growth sparked selling in energy and industrial shares, although broad selling was minimal.
* Oracle advanced 2 percent to $30.69 in premarket trade after beating earnings estimates as new software sales came in at the high end of the company's forecast, offsetting a sharp drop in hardware revenue.
* Investors will look to data at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) when the National Association of Realtors will release its existing home sales for February for signs excess inventory in the housing market is diminishing. Economists in a Thomson Reuters survey forecast a 4.62 million annualized unit total versus 4.57 million in January.
* S&P 500 futures rose 2.8 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 20 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 5 points.
* The U.S. Federal Reserve may need to start moving away from its near-zero interest rate policy as soon as this year, if unemployment continues to drop and inflation threatens to rise, a top Fed official told reporters. "I would see an argument for initiating that exit in 2012 or 2013," Narayana Kocherlakota, president of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, said.
* Companies expected to post earnings on Wednesday include Discover Financial Services and General Mills Inc .
* U.S. staffing provider On Assignment will buy privately held rival Apex Systems for $600 million, including debt, and said it expected the deal to significantly add to 2012 earnings.
* European shares edged higher led by retailer Sainsbury , breaking a two-day downtrend as investors positioned for upbeat U.S. housing data in the hope it will provide further evidence of economic recovery.
* Asian shares eased as concerns about China's slowing economy dampened the optimism generated by a brightening outlook for the U.S. economy that has been pushing equity markets higher since late last year.
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