US STOCKS-Futures flat ahead of data, Fed eyed
* Applied Materials to merge with Tokyo Electron, shares rise
* Facebook shares up on report it could be allowed in China
* Futures: Dow up 5 pts, S&P off 1 pt, Nasdaq up 5 pts
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Tuesday ahead of housing and consumer economic data that could help investors decipher recent comments by Federal Reserve officials over the near future of its stimulus program.
* New York Fed President William Dudley said Tuesday he "certainty wouldn't want to rule out" a reduction in the U.S. central bank's bond-buying program later this year, before repeating that a plan that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke outlined in June to wind down stimulus remained "intact."
* The Fed's $85 billion a month in asset purchases has been instrumental for a rally that has lifted the S&P 500 nearly 20 percent so far this year. Bernanke's plan was to reduce quantitative easing later this year and to end it by about mid-2014 as long as the economy keeps improving as expected.
* German business morale improved for a fifth consecutive month in September in a further sign that Europe's largest economy is staging a recovery, even as the data came in slightly below expectations.
* Facebook shares rose 1.7 percent to $48 in premarket trading after the South China Morning Post reported the online social media giant and other web sites deemed sensitive and blocked by the Chinese government will be accessible in a planned free-trade zone in Shanghai.
* S&P 500 futures fell 1 point and were little changed in terms of 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 rose 5 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 5 points.
* Shares of Applied Materials rose 7.6 percent in premarket trading after the chipmaker and Tokyo Electron Ltd said they will merge in an all-stock deal, creating a $29 billion company.
* Standard & Poor's releases its S&P/Case Shiller Home Price Index for July at 9 a.m. (1300 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey expect the adjusted 20-city index to rise 0.8 percent versus a 0.9 percent rise in the previous month.
* The Conference Board releases its September consumer confidence index at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT). Economists expect a reading of 79.9 compared with 81.5 in August.