US STOCKS-Futures point to slight losses at the open

Wed Aug 14, 2013 8:42am EDT

* Wall Street struggles for direction, volume low

* Deere shares higher in premarket after results

* Europe shows signs of momentum, France out of recession

* Futures down: Dow 20 pts, S&P 2.1 pts, Nasdaq 3.75 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Aug 14 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to slight losses at the open on Wednesday as investors found few reasons to make big bets with equities near all-time highs and little clarity over Federal Reserve policy.

Wall Street has struggled for direction recently, with the S&P 500 trading in a narrow range over the past month. During that period, the index has only closed once with a move greater than 1 percent.

Trading volume has been among the lowest of the year, as earnings season winds down and economic indicators present a mixed view of economic growth. Currently, the S&P is less than 1 percent away from its all-time high.

On Tuesday, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said the U.S. central bank could begin to slow its quantitative easing (QE) stimulus as early as next month, though data has been too mixed to outline a detailed exit strategy.

"The primary focus in markets is again on the Fed and when stimulus will slow, and it looks like the Fed itself doesn't know," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital in New York.

"There's a lot of uncertainty, but if we do get more QE, that would be a short-term positive for the market."

The movement of equity markets has been closely tethered to Fed policy, and many investors are worried that economic growth may lose momentum without the Fed's bond-buying intervention. Many traders are awaiting clarity on when the program could begin to slow before adjusting positions.

Producer prices were flat in July, below expectations for a 0.3 percent increase. The data could add to worries at the Fed that inflation is running too low, but futures were little impacted by the news.

Deere & Co rose 1 percent to $84.75 in premarket trading after the company reported third-quarter earnings and sales that beat expectations.

Shares of Macy's Inc fell 3 percent to $47.05 in premarket trading after the company reported its results and cut its full-year profit outlook.

S&P 500 futures fell 2.1 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 20 points and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 3.75 points.

Stocks have trended lower recently, with the S&P down for five of the past seven sessions. For the year, it remains up almost 19 percent.

"That this pullback has come on such little volume is a subtle but important sign of strength," said Sarhan.

Overseas markets were stronger, with both China and Europe seeing a string of encouraging economic indicators.

European shares rose 0.1 percent on Wednesday, extending a seven-week rally after data showed France pulled out of recession in the second quarter, while Germany posted its largest expansion in more than a year.

Steinway Musical Instruments Inc jumped 5.1 percent to $40.24 in premarket trading after it agreed to be taken private by Paulson & Co for $40 a share.

Shares of Apple Inc will remain in focus a day after activist investor Carl Icahn tweeted that he had built a "large position" in the stock and talked to CEO Tim Cook about a larger stock buyback.

The news pushed shares of the tech titan to a multi-month high on Tuesday, and shares extended those gains in premarket trading Wednesday, rising 0.8 percent to $493.70.

Game publisher Zynga Inc announced the departure of several senior executives late Tuesday, including Chief Operating Officer David Ko.

U.S. stocks rose on Tuesday after strong economic data, including retail sales, while Apple boosted the Nasdaq.

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