US STOCKS-Futures flat with eyes on Bernanke

Wed Jul 17, 2013 7:53am EDT

* Bank of America edges up after earnings

* Housing starts, Beige Book data due

* Futures: Dow off 1 pt, S&P up 0.5 pts, Nasdaq up 3.5 pts

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, July 17 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Wednesday, after the S&P snapped an eight-day winning streak that had vaulted the benchmark index to fresh record highs, ahead of testimony from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke is expected to balance a message of enduring central bank support for the U.S. economy with a reminder that the Fed's ultra-easy policies cannot last forever, in a semiannual monetary policy report before the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). The panel plans to make Bernanke's prepared remarks public at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT).

Financial markets have been highly sensitive to speculation over when the Fed will start to scale back its bond buying program. Comments by Bernanke and minutes from a Fed meeting in late May triggered a 6-percent drop in the S&P 500 in the month that followed.

But statements from Bernanke and Fed officials in recent weeks have placated investors and erased those declines, with the S&P rallying to fresh record highs on Monday.

"The market ended an eight-session winning streak on the back of some earnings and caution ahead of Bernanke's testimony," said Andre Bakhos, director of market analytics at Lek Securities in New York.

"Coming into today, the market has a good feel of what the Fed's intentions are; however, a statement from the chairman could shake out some of the recent gains or thrust us to new all-time highs."

Bank of America Corp edged up 0.1 percent to $13.94 in premarket trade after the second-biggest U.S. bank by assets reported a 70 percent jump in second-quarter profit, helped partly by lower operating expenses.

The pace of corporate earnings continues to pick up, with reports expected from American Express Co, eBay Inc , IBM and Intel Corp.

S&P 500 futures rose 0.5 point and were slightly 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 were down 1 point, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 3.5 points.

Also on the day's agenda, housing starts and permits data for June will be released at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a 959,000 annualized rate in June versus 914,000 in May.

Later in the session at 2:00 p.m. (1800 GMT), the Fed will release its Beige Book of regional economic conditions.

Analysts expect S&P 500 companies' second-quarter earnings to have grown 3 percent from a year earlier, with revenue up 1.5 percent, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

Of the 36 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results through Tuesday morning, 63.9 percent beat analysts' expectations, and 55.6 percent surpassed revenue estimates.

Mattel Inc, the world's largest toymaker, reported a far weaker-than-expected profit as sales of Barbie dolls fell again.

BNY Mellon Corp said second-quarter revenue and profit surged on a $184 million pre-tax gain from an equity investment.

European shares turned positive after losses earlier in the day, with gains at major financial and mining stocks buoying markets.

Asian shares steadied, with the MSCI Asia-Pacific ex-Japan index up 0.05 percent and Seoul shares advancing 1.1 percent ahead of Bernanke's congressional testimony.

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