CORRECTED-US STOCKS-Futures point to higher open, Putin comments ease fears

Tue Mar 18, 2014 5:00pm EDT

(Corrects to show housing starts dipped from prior month, not rose)

* Putin tells parliament he does not want more of Ukraine

* Fed in view as two-day meeting set to begin

* Hertz rises in premarket, GameStop slumps

* Futures up: Dow 50 pts, S&P 5.6 pts, Nasdaq 8.5 pts

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, March 18 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Tuesday, indicating the previous day's rally would continue after comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin eased concerns that tensions over Ukraine might escalate.

In an address to the Russian parliament, Putin said Russia didn't want Ukraine to be divided further, and that he did not want to seize more of the country after approving plans to make Crimea part of Russia following a disputed referendum.

Late Monday, the United States and the European Union imposed personal sanctions on a handful of officials from Russia and Ukraine who were accused of involvement in Moscow's military seizure of the Black Sea peninsula, in the biggest crisis between Russia and the United States since the end of the Cold War.

While few U.S. companies have heavy exposure to the region, investors are worried that tensions could mount, or that Russia may respond to the sanctions with actions of its own.

"The market is reflecting relief that this isn't going to escalate into a confrontation that could be messy and that would have an undetermined outcome," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.

S&P 500 futures rose 5.6 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 rose 50 points and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 8.5 points.

Investors were also looking ahead to a two-day meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve's policy-setting committee, which begins Tuesday. The central bank is not expected to deviate from previously announced policy plans, but as the Fed's stimulus has kept a floor under equity prices, market participants will be attuned to any hint of a change.

In the latest economic data, consumer prices rose 0.1 percent in February, as expected, while housing starts fell modestly from the previous month.

In company news, Hertz Global Holdings Inc said it would spin off its equipment rental business for $2.5 billion, and that part of the proceeds would be used to fund a stock buyback program. Shares rose 2.3 percent to $27.80 in premarket trading.

General Motors Co announced new recalls of 1.5 million vehicles on Monday. In an unprecedented public admission by a GM chief executive, Mary Barra acknowledged the company fell short in catching faulty ignition switches linked to 12 deaths. Shares rose 0.2 percent to $34.70 before the bell.

GameStop Corp shares fell 8.8 percent to $36.25 in premarket trading after Wal-Mart Stores Inc said it would allow shoppers to trade in used videogames for anything from groceries to gadgets.

American Express Co said late Monday four financial investors had committed a total of $900 million to a business travel joint venture, the largest single investment ever made in a travel management company.

Major U.S. indexes rose about 1 percent on Monday as tensions with Ukraine appeared to ease. The rally continued a recent trend of investors using market pullbacks as buying opportunities following a 2 percent decline in the S&P 500 last week. Key indexes have not had a sustained drop in more than a year. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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