Stocks: More housing data on tap

@CNNMoneyInvest March 21, 2012: 8:43 AM ET

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were poised to move higher Wednesday, as investors pushed aside worries of a cooling Chinese economy ahead of more U.S. housing market data.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were slightly higher ahead of the opening bell. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

The housing market remains in focus Wednesday, with a report on existing home sales and the weekly Mortgage Bankers Association application index on tap.

Stocks have been supported this year by rising hopes for the U.S. economy and easing concerns about the debt crisis in Europe. But the housing market's distress still weighs heavily on investors, as they continue to look for signs of recovery.

Data released by the government on Tuesday showed a big increase in requests for building permits in February, although new home construction was weaker than expected.

U.S. stocks closed lower Tuesday, as concerns about slowing growth in China overshadowed the upbeat housing data.

Economy: Existing home sales for February are expected to come in at an annual rate of 4.60 million, according to a survey of analysts by -- up from a rate of 4.57 million in January.

Gas prices rose by 1.8 cents to a national average of $3.86, according to motorist group AAA. Wednesday marks the twelfth consecutive day prices have risen. Gas prices are up 17.8% this year.

World markets: European stocks were mixed in morning trading. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) edged lower 0.1% and the DAX (DAX) in Germany was off 0.2%, while France's CAC 40 (CAC40) added 0.1%.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) ticked up 0.1% while the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong shed 0.2%. Japan's Nikkei (N225) lost 0.6%.

Companies: General Mills (GIS, Fortune 500) reported sales of $4.1 billion, and earnings per share of 55 cents on Wednesday morning.

The food producer cited its international acquisition of Yoplait as a source of growth, but noted that its margins were squeezed by higher input prices. Shares were off slightly in premarket trading.

Buyout season heating up

Shares of Hartford Financial Services Group (HIG, Fortune 500) were up almost 4% in premarket trading after the company said it was exiting the annuity business and was considering "strategic alternatives" for part of its life insurance business.

Strategic alternatives usually include a sale -- something advocated by hedge-fund manager John Paulson, who owns a sizable stake in the company.

After Tuesday's close, Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) reported better-than-expected earnings, lifting the tech company's shares about 2% in premarket trading.

Bernanke rails against gold standard

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

Oil for May delivery rose 21 cents to $106.28 a barrel.

Gold futures for April delivery rose $5.10 to $1,652.10 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing yields down to 2.34% from 2.37% late Tuesday. To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 17,672.60 -141.38 -0.79%
Nasdaq 4,757.88 7.48 0.16%
S&P 500 2,051.82 -11.33 -0.55%
Treasuries 1.82 -0.08 -4.17%
Data as of 5:24pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 15.73 -0.36 -2.24%
General Electric Co 24.48 0.20 0.82%
Apple Inc 112.98 0.58 0.52%
Avon Products Inc 7.98 -0.68 -7.85%
Intel Corp 36.44 -0.46 -1.26%
Data as of Jan 23
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.84%3.80%
15 yr fixed2.95%2.90%
5/1 ARM3.23%3.05%
30 yr refi3.84%3.81%
15 yr refi3.01%2.96%
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