US STOCKS-Wall St set to open flat before consumer confidence data
* Applied Materials shares rise on merger with Tokyo Electron
* Facebook shares up on report it could be allowed in China
* Futures up: Dow 23 pts, S&P 2 pts, Nasdaq 11 pts
NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set to open little changed on Tuesday ahead of data that could help investors interpret recent comments by Federal Reserve officials about the near future of its stimulus program.
U.S. single-family home prices rose in July at a slightly slower pace than forecast, though the gain from a year ago was the strongest in more than seven years. September consumer confidence data is due at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT).
Investors remain uncertain about the Fed's intentions regarding the start of a pullback from its stimulus efforts, and the economic data will be closely scrutinized to shed light on when the Fed might act.
New York Fed President William Dudley said Tuesday he "certainly wouldn't want to rule out" a reduction in the U.S. central bank's bond-buying program later this year.
The Fed's $85 billion a month in asset purchases has been instrumental for a rally that has lifted the S&P 500 nearly 20 percent so far this year. Bernanke's plan was to reduce quantitative easing later this year and to end it by about mid-2014 as long as the economy keeps improving as expected.
"There are conflicting reports on the internal discussion in the Fed," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
"There's a lot of information and that makes the Fed look confused," she said.
S&P 500 futures rose 2 points and were slightly above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 23 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 11 points.
Facebook shares rose 3 percent to $48.60 in premarket trading after the South China Morning Post reported the online social media giant and other websites deemed sensitive and blocked by the Chinese government will be accessible in a planned free-trade zone in Shanghai.
Shares of Applied Materials rose 8 percent in premarket trading after the chipmaker and Tokyo Electron Ltd said they will merge in an all-stock deal, creating a $29 billion company.
German business morale improved for a fifth consecutive month in September in a further sign that Europe's largest economy is staging a recovery, although the data came in slightly below expectations.