Stocks: Bracing for more housing data

@CNNMoneyInvest March 23, 2012: 8:43 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were poised for a flat open Friday as investors await one final housing report to end a week that has seen markets retreat amid fears of slower growth in China.

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

Heading into the trading session, the S&P 500 is down 0.8% on the week, and a lackluster performance Friday could solidify the index's first weekly loss since early February.

Reports released earlier this week on existing home sales and new home construction suggest that the housing market remains a trouble spot, even if the broader economy appears to be in recovery mode. A report on building permits, however, was the strongest in more than three years.

Although mortgage rates rose this week, they remain relatively cheap. Analysts are hoping that the improving jobs picture will help lift the housing market.

U.S. stocks fell Thursday, as investors were rattled by worries of a global growth slowdown based on soft manufacturing data from Germany and China.

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Still, traders say volumes have been abnormally low this week, indicating that investors don't have strong convictions about the direction of the market.

Economy: New home sales for February are expected to come in at an annual rate of 323,000, according to a survey of analysts by Briefing.com -- up from a rate of 321,000 in January.

Companies: Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) announced a pilot program that would allow delinquent homeowners to relinquish the deed to the property and transition to tenant status. Only 1,000 homeowners are eligible for the pilot, and Bank of American shares were off slightly in premarket trading.

Darden Restaurants (DRI, Fortune 500), which operates chains such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden, posted quarterly earnings of $1.25 a share on $2.16 billion in revenue, slightly better than analysts had expected.

Shares of homebuilder KB Home (KBH) plummeted almost 13% in premarket trading after the company reported a loss of 59 cents per share, more than double analysts' expectations. The company also fell short of expectations in reporting $254 million in revenue.

BATS Global Markets (BATS), an equities and options exchange operator, will start trading Friday after pricing it's initial public offering at $16, the low end of its estimated range.

World markets: European stocks were down in midday trading. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) dropped 1.3%, the DAX (DAX) in Germany lost 0.7% and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) was off 0.6%.

China hits rough patch, but landing looks soft

Asian markets ended lower. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP), Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong and Japan's Nikkei (N225) all lost about 1.1%.

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

Oil for May delivery rose 34 cents to $105.69 a barrel.

Gold futures for April delivery rose $7.10 to $1,649.60 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 2.25% from 2.28% late Thursday.  To top of page

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