US STOCKS-Futures slip as growth concerns weigh

Mon Mar 4, 2013 7:58am EST

* Futures down: S&P 1 pt, Dow 17 pts, Nasdaq 12.75 pts

* Growth concerns on China plans to contain housing costs

* Investors to take breather with stocks at high levels

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK, March 4 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures slipped on Monday as worries about the prospects for global economic growth prompted investors to take a step back from equities that are within reach of record highs.

China could increase required downpayments and loan rates for buyers of second homes in cities where prices are rising too quickly, in the government's latest move to contain housing costs.

The plans, announced by the cabinet late on Friday, were stricter than expected and prompted worries about slower growth in China.

"It raises the question of growth in China," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.

Along with the possibility of another Italian election on the horizon and the automatic spending cuts that are starting to go into effect in the United States, it could give investors the opportunity to take money off the table, Cardillo said.

"All of these things are an excuse for the market to take a little bit of a breather and have a choppy session," said Cardillo.

Separately, data showed growth in China's services sector expanded at its slowest pace in five months in February.

Domestically, the $85 billion in across-the-board spending cuts officially started taking effect over the weekend. Stocks have so far shrugged off concerns about the so-called sequester, but signs the cuts are beginning to take a toll on the economy could jostle markets.

President Barack Obama raised again the issue of cutting entitlements such as Medicare and Social Security as a way out of damaging budget cuts, a White House official said on Sunday.

S&P 500 futures fell 1 point and were below 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 were down 17 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 12.75 points.

Stocks have climbed to multiyear highs in recent months, putting the S&P 500 and Dow within sight of their record high levels. The indexes are up more than 6 and 7 percent, respectively, for the year so far.

The latest flare-up in the euro zone sovereign debt crisis also weighed on futures as Italy appeared to be inching toward another round of elections within months.

Center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani issued an ultimatum to anti-establishment 5-Star Movement boss Beppe Grillo to support a new government or return to the polls.

Warren Buffett, speaking on CNBC, said stocks are cheaper than other investments now. On Friday, Buffett warned shareholders that Berkshire Hathaway may end a long streak of outperforming the S&P 500 this year, even as he said he was still hunting for acquisitions.

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