US STOCKS-Futures sharply higher after Crimea vote

Mon Mar 17, 2014 7:19am EDT

* Markets deemed vulnerable to geopolitical shocks

* S&P 500 comes off biggest weekly decline in seven

* Alibaba will begin U.S. IPO process

* Futures up: Dow 85 pts, S&P 9.5 pts, Nasdaq 22.75 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures rose on Monday, rebounding from a steep drop in the previous week, after Sunday's referendum over whether Crimea will join Russia passed without violence.

* While markets are seen as vulnerable to further developments in what is considered the biggest crisis between Russia and the United States since the Cold War, anticipated sanctions against Russia had yet to materialize.

* The 97-percent vote in Crimea in favor of quitting Ukraine was condemned as illegal by Kiev and the West, with the White House calling Russian actions "dangerous and destabilizing."

* The geopolitical tension weighed on equities last week, with the S&P 500 suffering its biggest weekly loss in seven. The benchmark index closed below a key technical support level of 1,850 for a second straight day on Friday, and is now down 2 percent from its all-time closing high.

* In a sign of investor anxiety, the CBOE Volatility index jumped to its highest since early February on Friday, though the so-call "fear index" remains at historically low levels.

* S&P 500 futures rose 9.5 points and were 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 85 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 22.75 points.

* Markets have not undergone a sustained pullback in more than a year, with investors using periods of market weakness as buying opportunities. The U.S. Federal Reserve's massive stimulus program has helped keep a floor under equity prices, and market participants are looking ahead to a two-day meeting of the Fed's policy-setting committee, which begins Tuesday.

* The Fed is unlikely to deviate from previously announced policies, but it could use the meeting - the first with Janet Yellen as chair - to map out its plan for rate rises, whether in the formal statement it issues afterward or at Yellen's news conference. The central bank has said that the first rate rise is likely to come around the middle of next year, as long as the U.S. economy keeps healing.

* A read on March New York manufacturing is scheduled for release at 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT) and is seen rising from the prior month. February industrial output data is due out at 9:15 a.m. and is seen rising by 0.1 percent.

* In company news, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd said on Sunday it would begin the process towards a U.S. initial public offering, ending months of speculation.

* Intercept Pharmaceuticals Inc on Sunday said its experimental liver disease drug was effective in a third late-stage clinical trial, setting the stage for the company to file for marketing approval. Shares fell 5.9 percent to $435 in premarket trading.

* Giant Investment Ltd will acquire Chinese online gaming company Giant Interactive Group Inc for $3 billion and take it private, the companies said on Sunday.

A couple walks along the rough surf during sunset at Oahu's North Shore, December 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

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