* Housing data on tap
* Office Depot, OfficeMax in merger talks - source
* Futures up: Dow 18 pts, S&P 1.4 pts, Nasdaq 5.25 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Feb 19 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures edged higher on Tuesday, indicating the S&P 500 will build on its seven-week winning streak ahead of data on the housing market.
* The S&P 500 has risen for seven straight weeks, its longest streak since January 2011, and is up 6.6 percent for the year.
* The strong start to the year was fueled by legislators in Washington averting a series of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes that were set to take effect on Jan. 1, as well as better-than-expected corporate earnings and data that pointed to modest economic improvement but no immediate change in the Federal Reserve’s stimulus plans.
* But further gains for the benchmark S&P index have been a struggle recently as investors look for new catalysts to lift the index as it hovers near five-year highs.
* Economic data on tap includes the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing market index for February at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey expect a reading of 48 compared with 47 in January.
* Improving housing data has been cited by analysts as one of the key factors in the equity market rally.
* S&P 500 futures rose 1.4 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 gained 18 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 5.25 points.
* Office Depot Inc jumped 11.1 percent to $5.10 in premarket trading after a person familiar with the matter said the No.2 U.S. office supply retailer is in advanced talks to merge with smaller rival OfficeMax Inc and a deal could come as early as this week. OfficeMax shares climbed 13.5 percent to $12.20 in light premarket trade.
* Computer-maker Dell reports fourth-quarter results, expected to show earnings per share fall to $0.39 from $0.51 one year earlier. Analysts will have their first chance to question management on a buyout deal struck earlier this month by chief executive Michael Dell, private equity firm Silver Lake and Microsoft.
* An investor bid to break up Hess Corp’s sprawling energy empire has drawn unwelcome attention to one of the commodity trading world’s lesser-known players, a venture that has stumbled in recent years after a decade of success.
* European shares rose on Tuesday, lifted by gains at food group Danone and fresh signs of a German economic recovery, although broader market sentiment remained cautious ahead of Italian elections this weekend.
* Philippine and Australian shares scaled new heights but other Asian shares were mixed, with worries about the risk of an inconclusive outcome in Italy’s election and U.S. budget talks limiting the upside after strong rallies in early February.