US STOCKS-Wall Street set to slip at open beginning busy week
* Drug firm Perrigo to buy Elan; Publicis, Omnicom in merger
* Pending-home sales data due at 10 a.m.
* Futures off: Dow 27 pts, S&P 3.6 pts, Nasdaq 6 pts
NEW YORK, July 29 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to slip at the open on Monday as a week packed with data and central bank meetings gets under way, with the S&P 500 just 0.2 percent below its record close set a week ago.
Investors will focus on Wednesday's statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve for clarity on when the Fed will begin to pare its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases. The Fed is most likely to begin tapering its quantitative easing stimulus in September, according to a Reuters poll of economists conducted on July 22.
Until recently investors have embraced average or weak data with the expectation that the Fed will continue to stimulate the economy and put a floor on stock prices. However, the prospect of a slightly less accommodative Fed in the near future has increased the market's need for stronger economic data.
Data on the housing and industrial sectors are scheduled in the first half of the week, followed by gross domestic product for the second quarter on Wednesday and the key payrolls report on Friday. The National Association of Realtors issues pending home sales for June at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Monday.
On the earnings front, hotel, energy and financial services conglomerate Loews Corp posted a jump in second-quarter profit as revenue from its insurance arm, CNA Financial, increased nearly 13 percent. Loews shares added 2 percent in light premarket trading.
"Earnings have been good so far, but they have come in low-quality," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "We haven't really seen margin expansion or a lot of revenue growth and that can keep a lid on the markets in the short term."
Halfway through earnings season, 67.6 percent of S&P 500 companies have beaten analysts' expectations - in line with the 67 percent average beat in the last four quarters. About 56 percent of the companies have beaten revenue expectations, more than the 48 percent of revenue beats in the past four earnings seasons but below the historical average.
Wynn Resorts shares fell 1 percent in premarket trading after the casino developer and operator missed Wall Street estimates.
S&P 500 futures fell 3.6 points 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 fell 27 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 6 points.
Merger activity could give equities support as big deals show that large investors see value in the market.
On Monday, U.S. drugmaker Perrigo agreed to buy Irish drug company Elan for $8.6 billion. U.S.-traded Elan shares jumped 7.1 percent to $15.99 in premarket trading.
Shares in advertising groups jumped after Publicis and Omnicom said they would merge, as investors bet the deal would create an opening for rivals to poach defecting clients and potentially trigger more deals.
The merger also could bring rival accounts such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo under one firm. Omnicon shares gained 7 percent in premarket trading.
"Deals are getting done because there's still cheap money," said Fort Pitt's Forrest. "It makes you wonder if the threat of higher interest rates is making these deals get done now."
Hudson's Bay Co, operator of department store chains Lord & Taylor in the United States and The Bay in Canada, said it would buy luxury retailer Saks Inc for $16 per share. Saks shares rose 3.5 percent to $15.85 in premarket trading.
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