US STOCKS-Futures flat ahead of short session

Tue Dec 24, 2013 8:10am EST

* Dow, S&P 500 closed at all-time highs Monday

* Market closes early, remains shut through Christmas Day

* Carlyle near deal to buy J&J unit: sources

* Dow up 2 pts, S&P down 0.3 pt, Nasdaq down 1.25 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Dec 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Tuesday, as investors were reluctant to make big bets ahead of the Christmas Day holiday, with equity indexes at record highs.

Markets will close early on Tuesday and remain shut until Thursday for the holiday. Trading is expected to be very light during the shortened session, with many market participants out of the office. The light action could allow for greater volatility.

Retail stocks will be in focus as the holiday shopping season draws to a close. Sales have been soft this season, and many stores have offered steep discounts to lure customers.

Wall Street rallied on Monday, with both the Dow and S&P 500 advancing to all-time highs while the Nasdaq climbed to its highest since August 2000. Further upside may be limited at these levels, especially in the absence of major trading catalysts.

"Investors have taken their positions for the year, so what we're seeing is a market pause to digest the very strong rally we've had," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital in New York.

In the latest economic data, November durable goods are due out at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT), followed by November new home sales at 10:00 a.m. Durables are seen rising 2 percent while new home sales are seen holding steady with the previous month.

"If one of these data points is a real outlier, then it has the potential to move markets, especially today when the volume is so light," Sarhan said.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.3 point but remained 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 added 2 points and Nasdaq 100 futures fell 1.25 points.

The S&P 500 has soared 28.2 percent this year, largely due to the Fed's stimulus measures, and is on track for its best year since 1997. The Dow is up 24.3 percent in 2013 while the Nasdaq has jumped 37.4 percent.

In company news, private equity firm Carlyle Group LP is nearing an agreement to acquire Johnson & Johnson's ortho clinical diagnostics unit, people familiar with the matter said Monday, in a deal expected to be worth around $4 billion.

Target Corp's general counsel, Timothy Baer, spoke with top state prosecutors on Monday to address their concerns about a massive data breach, as consumer lawsuits piled up against the retailer and two U.S. senators called for a federal probe.

Walt Disney Co named Twitter Inc co-founder Jack Dorsey an independent board director.

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