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US stocks seen higher ahead of a busy day for economic data


U.S. stock index futures signaled a higher open on Tuesday, after the Japanese Nikkei index hit a three-day high on news of possible corporate tax cuts.


The Nikkei closed 2.6 percent higher after the Nikkei newspaper reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has called for a study on the impact of lowering the current corporate tax rate, as a way to attract foreign capital and boost growth.


Meanwhile, China's benchmark index, the Shanghai Composite, hit its highest level since June 20 on rising economic sentiment, Australia's S&P ASX 200 rose to its highest level in nearly three months and South Korea's Kospi hit a one-week high.


In Europe, shares were higher in morning trade after Germany's closely-watched ZEW indicator of economic sentiment came in at a highest since March. The index stood at 42.0 for August, up on 36.3 in the previous month.


In the U.S., investors will eye Tuesday's retail sales numbers to assess whether consumption growth is stabilizing, after the second quarter's modest slowdown. The data will be out at 8:30 a.m. ET, with sales for July expected to be up 0.3 percent, compared to a 0.4 percent gain in June.


"Core retail sales appear to have accelerated in the month, as suggested by the recently reported gains in same-store-sales,"Citigroup chief economist Robert DiClemente said in a research note.


"Restaurant receipts fell in May and June, but at the same time employment in that sector expanded and sector specific surveys picked up. We suspect there will be a correction in restaurant sales, but whether it comes as a rise in July, or upward revisions to back months, is unclear."


Import price data for July are also out at 8:30 a.m. ET, while the NFIB small business survey will be released at 7:30 a.m. Business inventories will be reported at 10 a.m.


Besides economic reports, traders will be watching for comments related to Federal Reserve "tapering" from Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart, who speaks at 12:45 p.m. on the economic outlook. Lockhart's speech will be of particular interest, given that last week he said Fed tapering could begin as early as September.


Earnings are expected from Flowers Foods, and Elbit Systems ahead of the Wall Street open on Tuesday. Cree, SeaWorld Entertainment, Jack Henry and Associates, JDS Uniphase, Myriad Genetics and Taylor Morrison Home will report after the closing bell.


By CNBC's Katy Barnato