* Applied Materials to merge with Tokyo Electron, shares
* Facebook shares up on report it could be allowed in China
* Futures: Dow down 7 pts, S&P off 2 pts, Nasdaq up 2 pts
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Sept 24 U.S. stock index futures were
little changed on Tuesday before housing and consumer data that
could help investors interpret Federal Reserve officials'
comments about the short-term plans for the Fed's stimulus
New York Fed President William Dudley said Tuesday he
"certainly wouldn't want to rule out" a reduction in the U.S.
central bank's bond-buying program later this year.
The Fed's $85 billion a month in asset purchases has been
instrumental for a rally that has lifted the S&P 500
nearly 20 percent so far this year. Bernanke's plan was to
reduce quantitative easing later this year and to end it by
about mid-2014 as long as the economy keeps improving as
"There are conflicting reports on the internal discussion in
the Fed," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at
Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
"There's a lot of information and that makes the Fed look
confused," she said.
Standard & Poor's releases its S&P/Case Shiller Home Price
Index for July at 9 a.m. (1300 GMT) and the Conference Board
releases its September consumer confidence index at 10 a.m.
The data, said Fort Pitt's Forrest, is key for market
participants to gauge if housing demand will continue to fuel
the economic pickup as it did in the first half of the year,
even as mortgage rates have jumped.
S&P 500 futures fell 2 points and were little changed
in terms of 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
fell 7 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 2
Facebook shares rose 2 percent to $48.11 in premarket
trading after the South China Morning Post reported the online
social media giant and other websites deemed sensitive and
blocked by the Chinese government will be accessible in a
planned free-trade zone in Shanghai.
Shares of Applied Materials rose 4.4 percent in
premarket trading after the chipmaker and Tokyo Electron Ltd
said they will merge in an all-stock deal, creating a
$29 billion company.
German business morale improved for a fifth consecutive
month in September in a further sign that Europe's largest
economy is staging a recovery, although the data came in
slightly below expectations.