US STOCKS-Futures little changed; home sales data on tap

Mon Dec 30, 2013 8:21am EST

* Cooper Tire falls after Apollo Tyres merger nixed

* Crocs jumps on Blackstone investment

* Trina Solar climbs after China solar plant deal

* Futures: Dow up 13 pts, S&P up 1.2 pts, Nasdaq off 0.5 pt

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Dec 30 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Monday, in the wake of the best two-week advance for the S&P 500 in five months, and ahead of data on the housing market.

The benchmark S&P 500 has risen 3.7 percent over the past two weeks, the index's best fortnight since July, thanks to the Federal Reserve's decision to begin winding down its stimulus measures on signs of economic improvement.

The S&P has soared 29.1 percent this year and is on pace for its best year since 1997, powered largely by the central bank's stimulus measures. The Dow has jumped 25.8 percent and the Nasdaq 37.7 percent this year.

"This market was one that performed better than all expectations and did that despite an improving yet sluggish economy," said Andre Bakhos, managing director at Janlyn Capital LLC in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

"Now it's head-scratching time: What do you do after a market like this? Do you jump on board to start the new year or play it defensively?"

Investors await the release of pending home sales data for November from the National Association of Realtors, at 10:00 a.m. (1500 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey expect a 1.0 percent rise compared with a 0.6 percent fall in the previous month.

S&P 500 futures rose 1.2 points 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 gained 13 points and Nasdaq 100 futures shed 0.5 point.

Markets will close Wednesday for the New Year's holiday, ahead of which trading is expected to be light, with many market participants out of the office. The thin volume could make for greater volatility.

Cooper Tire & Rubber slumped 6.6 percent to $21.45 before the opening bell after the company said it was not going ahead with a $2.5 billion merger with India's Apollo Tyres Ltd .

Shares of Crocs Inc jumped 10.1 percent to $14.68 in premarket trading after the shoemaker said its chief executive, John McCarvel, would retire in April, and that Blackstone Group LP was investing $200 million in Crocs that will give the private equity firm a 13 percent stake in the company.

Trina Solar climbed 8.1 percent to $14.21 after the company signed an agreement to develop a solar power plant in China.

European stocks edged higher, consolidating in holiday-thinned trade after two weeks of strong gains that have pulled markets to five-year highs.

Japanese shares ended a stellar year with a flourish, rising to a six-year peak, as the yen skidded to fresh lows for a third straight session.

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A tourist takes a plunge as she swims at Ngapali Beach, a popular tourist site, in the Thandwe township of the Rakhine state, October 6, 2013. Picture taken October 6, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun (MYANMAR - Tags: SOCIETY) - RTR3FOI0

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