Earnings helped take some of the edge off the slightly downbeat sentiment, as two pharmaceutical companies both beat analyst estimates.
Pfizer reported profit of 47 cents a share net of items, three cents ahead of expectations and enough to see shares edge higher in pre-market trading. Eli Lilly, meanwhile, said its profit fell to 74 cents per share but was still ahead of expectations, sending shares modestly higher.
However, Ford Motor disappointed the market, with the automaker reporting profit of 31 cents that easily topped estimates but forecasting a wider loss in Europe because of the recession there. Shares fell about 1 percent.
In technology, Yahoo reported a fourth-quarter profit of 32 cents per share, four cents above estimates, with revenues essentially in line. Yahoo's current quarter revenue project was below consensus, but its full-year projections were above. Yahoo did benefit from higher ad prices in its first full quarter under CEO Marissa Mayer.
The Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee begins its two-day meeting on Tuesday, before releasing its decision on policy on Wednesday.
"The Fed statement tomorrow is likely to be the most eagerly anticipated news of the week," wrote Rebecca O'Keeffe, head of investment at Interactive Investor, in a note on Tuesday morning.
"At their last meeting they were clearly considering when to terminate QE3 [the Fed's third round of monetary stimulus], so the market will be looking for any signs of this and, as with most Fed statements, trying to read between the lines."
The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index for 20 metro areas rose 0.6 percent in November on a seasonally adjusted basis after a 0.6 percent uptick in October. That was in line with economist forecasts, and follows disappointing pending home sales data released on Monday.
The Conference Board will release its consumer confidence index for January at 10 a.m. Analysts polled by Reuters forecast a fall to 64.0 from 65.1 in December.
Paul Dales, economist at independent research firm Capital Economics, said a fall in the index was consistent with "modest consumption growth".
"All the usual determinants of sentiment have improved. Gasoline prices have fallen below $3.50 a gallon, equity prices have risen and initial jobless claims have declined to a five-year low. This all explains why our econometric model suggests that confidence may have risen," Dales wrote in a note on Monday afternoon.
"Unfortunately, our model doesn't account for the expiry of the payroll tax cut, which we think will exert a drag on sentiment in January specifically."
Ongoing concerns about the potential impact of the U.S. budget sequester — $1.2 trillion worth of automatic spending reductions in departments such as defense due to kick in on March 1 unless Congress stops them – may also impact on consumer confidence results.
"If it (the sequester) goes through it would have a 1 percent drag on gross domestic product and unemployment will go up," Tony Nash, managing director at IHS Consulting, told CNBC's Asia "Squawk Box" on Monday.
"If the sequester kicks in and some other tax issues kick in, you're also looking at about 1 percent being added to unemployment, so you're looking at a lot of risk in the first half of the year," he added.
The U.S. unemployment rate is 7.8 percent, with the latest monthly job numbers due this Friday.
After the closing bell, results from Amazon.com will be in focus.
- By CNBC's Katy Barnato