Stock futures little changed ahead of opening as investors await report on home sales

With little in the way of new economic data out to give investors direction, stock futures were trading in a narrow range Tuesday.

A report on sales of previously owned homes due out at 10 a.m. EDT will be the latest report investors turn to for clues about the battered housing market. Housing reports have been among the few exceptions to a recent trend of data showing consistent economic improvement.

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Stocks have been climbing steadily in recent weeks following a stream of economic reports that mostly show the economy is recovering, albeit slowly.

Unlike the manufacturing and industrial sectors, the housing market has been slow to recover after its collapse helped push the nation into recession. Reports on sales, home prices and foreclosure rates have been uneven in recent months.

The National Association of Realtors is expected to say sales of existing homes fell 1 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5 million units, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters.

Bad weather across the country and still tight lending and high unemployment were likely the reason sales dipped to their lowest level since last summer.

KB Home said its losses narrowed during its fiscal first quarter, a sign of some stabilization in the market. However, the homebuilder’s results still fell short of expectations.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is scheduled to testify before Congress about government efforts to overhaul mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The pair, which were essentially taken over by the government during the credit crisis, guarantee a majority of mortgages. The government’s support for the two has helped keep interest rates low as part of an effort to help the housing market recover.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 3, or less than 0.1 percent, to 10,730. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures fell 0.10, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,161.90, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 0.75, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,949.25.

The Dow has risen in 14 of the past 17 trading sessions and is at its highest level since October 2008.

The recent gains have not come in big chunks like they did last year when triple-digit advances were frequent as the market rose from a 12-year bottom. Instead gains have come in smaller pieces. The Dow rose 44 points Monday.

Stocks rallied Monday after House lawmakers approved a health care overhaul bill that will require about 32 million Americans to get health insurance. Drug and hospital companies got a big boost after the House bill passed because it removed uncertainty that had dogged the sector for months.

The Dow rose 0.4 percent, while the S&P 500 jumped 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, bond prices were little changed Tuesday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.67 percent from 3.66 percent late Monday.

The dollar rose against other major currencies. Gold and oil dipped.

Overseas, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.5 percent, Germany’s DAX index gained 0.2 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.5 percent. Japan‘s Nikkei stock average fell 0.5 percent a day after being closed for a holiday.

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