NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were headed for a slightly higher open Wednesday as investors wind down the year.
The Dow Jones industrial average (), S&P 500 ( ) and Nasdaq ( ) futures were up about 0.2%. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.
Trading volumes are expected to be well below average, with many market participants taking time off this week for the holidays. And with no major economic reports due Wednesday, traders aren't expecting much volatility.
U.S. stocks ended a listless session little changed Tuesday as investors weighed reports on consumer confidence and home prices.
U.S. stocks have been supported recently by signs of improvement in the economy, including declines in weekly claims for unemployment benefits and an uptick in new home construction.
But investors say the market remains vulnerable as the debt crisis in Europe continues to threaten the outlook for the global economy and financial markets.
One bright spot for Europe Wednesday was an Italian auction of 3- and 24-month bonds that drew strong demand and yields half as high as the previous month's auctions. The results helped lift Euroepan equities and banks.
Investors will be more closely watching Thursday's auction of Italian 10-year bonds, which have seen yields continue to flirt with the 7% danger zone. That level is worrisome because it flashed the first warning signs for Ireland, Portugal and Greece, which all eventually needed bailouts.
World markets: Britain's FTSE 100 ( ) added 0.7%, the DAX ( ) in Germany edged up 0.1% and France's CAC 40 ( ) rose 0.5%
Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite () rose 0.2%, the Hang Seng ( ) in Hong Kong fell 0.6% and Japan's Nikkei ( ) lost 0.2%.
Currencies and commodities: Oil prices eased off the previous sessions spike, slipping 33 cents to $101.01 a barrel. On Tuesday, crude prices jumped 2% after Iran threatened to choke off the flow of oil passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
Gold futures for February delivery fell $4.00 to $1,559.50 an ounce.
The dollar fell against the British pound, the euro and the Japanese yen.
Economy: The latest installment of the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) application index, covering the week ended Dec. 24, will be released Wednesday. The previous edition of the index showed a 2.6% decrease from the week prior.
Companies: Shares in the financial sector were higher ahead of the opening bell.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury was little changed, with the yield holding steady at 2.01% from late Tuesday.
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