Stocks: Housing in focus

@CNNMoneyInvest March 20, 2012: 8:53 AM ET

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were headed for a lower open Tuesday as Asian and European markets lost ground and investors digest new data on the housing market.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures fell about 0.6%. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Investors will be watching for clues about the direction of the U.S. economy in comments from senior policymakers, while taking a look at new housing data.

While recent data on the job market and retail sales suggest that the economy may be healing, the housing market remains a trouble spot. But strong numbers Tuesday could help stocks sustain the gains made so far this year.

In the afternoon, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will deliver a lecture at the George Washington University School of Business. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, meanwhile, will testify before the House Financial Services Committee.

Stocks closed with modest gains Monday after a morning of choppy trading.

Economy: Future home construction showed signs of strength in February, with permits climbing 5.1% to annual rate of 717,000, topping analyst predictions of 695,000.

Housing starts dipped 1.1% to 698,000, below estimates.

World markets: European stocks were lower in morning trading. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) shed 1.1%, the DAX (DAX) in Germany and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) both lost 1.4%.

Asian markets ended lower. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) dropped 1.4% and the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong lost 1.1%. Japan's markets were closed for the vernal equinox holiday.

Losses in Asia were spurred on by a report from the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics that showed new home prices declined in 45 out of 70 major cities, while prices were static in 21 others, underscoring concerns about slower growth.

Separately, Chinese government planners hiked prices on gasoline and diesel fuel as they respond to the rising cost of crude oil.

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Companies: With housing in focus, shares of homebuilder KB Home advanced (KBH) almost 2% and shares of PulteGroup (PHM, Fortune 500) were up 3.7% before the opening bell.

Jefferies Group (JEF) posted quarterly earnings of 33 cents per share on strong gains in its investment banking business, topping analyst estimates. The firm also beat on revenue.

Shares of Tiffany & Co (TIF) rose 1%, after the luxury jeweler reported sales of $1.2 billion -- in line with forecasts -- and issued an upbeat outlook.

Shares of Adobe Systems (ADBE) fell 4% in premarket trading, after the software maker issued earnings and guidance in line with expectations late Monday.

Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) is slated to report earnings after the bell Tuesday. The tech firm is expected to earn 56 cents a share on $9 billion of revenue.

Michael Kors (KORS)' stock got a boost after the fashion company hiked its outlook.

Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) shares up slightly in premarket trading, after the bank denied speculation that it's planning to raise money by issuing stock in a secondary offering.

Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) shares moved between small losses and gains in premarket trading. The company announced late Monday that it had sold more than 3 million new iPads, since the new version's March 16 launch.

Earlier in the day, Apple announced plans for a share buyback and a quarterly dividend.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar strengthened against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil for April delivery slipped $1.01 to $107.08 a barrel.

Oil for May delivery will become the active contract at the market close. The contract was trading at $107.50 early Tuesday.

Gold futures for April delivery fell $21.60 to $1,645.90 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 2.35% from 2.38% late Monday.  To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 24,597.58 135.88 0.56%
Nasdaq 7,712.07 -0.89 -0.01%
S&P 500 2,760.79 11.03 0.40%
Treasuries 2.92 0.02 0.86%
Data as of 9:39am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Huntington Bancshare... 15.61 0.16 1.04%
KeyCorp 20.67 0.00 0.00%
Mondelez Internation... 40.74 -0.02 -0.05%
Exelon Corp 41.43 0.00 0.00%
U.S. Bancorp 50.99 0.00 0.00%
Data as of Jun 21
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.45%4.47%
15 yr fixed3.89%3.90%
5/1 ARM4.19%4.22%
30 yr refi4.45%4.46%
15 yr refi3.88%3.88%
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