US STOCKS-Futures point to higher open as Ukraine tensions ease

Wed Mar 26, 2014 8:57am EDT

* West holds off on more severe sanctions against Russia

* Facebook buys Oculus for $2 bln, shares up in premarket

* U.S. unemployment to fall below 6 pct in 2014 -Bullard

* Futures up: Dow 70 pts, S&P 5.7 pts, Nasdaq 9.25 pts (Adds durable goods data)

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, March 26 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to a higher open on Wall Street Wednesday as geopolitical tensions eased after Western powers agreed to hold off on more damaging economic sanctions against Russia unless it went beyond its seizure of Crimea.

* Futures were supported by durable goods data, which rose more than expected in February, ending two straight months of declines. The report followed other positive reads on the economy that ended weakness earlier this year related to bad weather rather than worsening fundamentals.

* Tensions between the United States and Russia have been a major market focus in recent sessions, although the issue has not translated to protracted market losses. Investors have been concerned about the economic fallout of any escalation in the biggest East-West conflict since the Cold War, though few U.S. companies have direct exposure to the region.

* U.S. President Barack Obama said Russian forces would not be removed militarily from Crimea, although the international community still didn't recognize Russia's annexation of the region. Moscow said it was keen to maintain contact with G8 partners.

* Facebook Inc said late Tuesday it would buy Oculus VR Inc, a maker of virtual-reality glasses for gaming, for $2 billion. The acquisition follows Facebook's $19 billion deal to buy WhatsApp in February. Shares of the social networking giant were slightly lower in premarket trading.

* S&P 500 futures rose 5.7 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 70 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 9.25 points.

* James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, said the outlook for the U.S. economy was "quite good," and that he expected the unemployment rate to fall below 6 percent this year.

* Toyota Motor Corp will buy back up to 1.89 percent of its shares worth up to $3.5 billion in the automaker's biggest buyback in more than a decade. U.S. shares of the company rose 2.6 percent to $111.25 before the bell.

* Mobile game maker King Digital Entertainment Plc late Tuesday priced its initial public offering at the mid-point of its expected range, valuing the "Candy Crush Saga" maker at about $7.1 billion despite questions over whether it can replicate the success of its smartphone smash-hit. King priced its IPO at $22.50 a share, and the stock is set to debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday.

* Clothing company PVH Corp, which owns such brands as Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, late Tuesday issued an adjusted full-year profit forecast that was above expectations. Shares rose 2.5 percent to $120.14 in light premarket trading.

* Insmed Inc fell 15 percent to $15.50 in premarket trading after the company said its only experimental drug failed to meet the main goal of a mid-stage trial on patients with a form of bacterial lung infection.

* Investors are looking ahead to the March reading on the U.S. services sector from financial data firm Markit, which is on tap for release after the market opens.

* In China, a series of weak economic reports have raised expectations of additional monetary stimulus, though analysts noted there was limited scope for this.

* Shares in Europe and Asia rose, boosted by the prospect of more accommodative monetary policies from central banks. European Central Bank governing council member Jens Weidmann said Tuesday the ECB was not ruling out buying loans and other assets from banks to support the euro zone. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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