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Futures Eke Up Pre-Fed; Toll Shares Surge

Futures indicated a slightly higher open for the U.S. stock market Wednesday, following the previous day's losses of roughly 1 percent, ahead of the Federal Reserve policymakers' issuance of their latest economic pronouncements at about 2:15 p.m. New York time.

While it's widely expected they'll keep interest rates near zero, Wall Street is anxious to hear the Fed's latest take on the economy, as well as learn about any new strategies to exit the extraordinary measures taken to deal with the financial crisis.

As the Fed begins the second day of its two-day meeting, some good news for chairman Ben Bernanke: a Wall Street Journal survey shows nearly unanimous agreement among economists that Bernanke should be reappointed to another term as chairman, and a 71 percent chance that President Obama will ask him to do so.

In economic reports, mortgage applications fell 3.5 percent as rising mortgage rates depressed refinancing demand.

The government issues June trade balance figures at 8:30 a.m. New York time, with economists looking for a deficit of $28.5 billion.

In corporate news, home builder Toll Brothers said it expects to report a 42 percent drop in third-quarter revenue, but said net contracts signed increased for the first time in 16 quarters. Shares jumped 7.3 percent on the news.

American International Group has agreed to sell its Hong Kong consumer finance and India-based IT services units.

China Construction Bank Asia, the country's second-biggest lender will buy 100 percent of AIG Finance (Hong Kong) for $70 million in cash, in a deal that includes repayment of intra-group indebtedness and deposits of about $557 million.

AIG shares gained 1.4 percent premarket.

In earnings, retailer Macy's and food and household products maker Sara Lee report before the bell.

One earnings report that may provide a positive spur for the markets is yesterday's late numbers from Applied Materials , the biggest maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment. AMAT reported a smaller loss than analysts were looking for, and gave an upbeat forecast for the current quarter.

Tuesday's losses were the biggest since July 7, underscoring just how strong the market has been in recent weeks.

And former Bernard Madoff CFO Frank DiPascali Jr. is in jail, after pleading guilty to 10 criminal charges in connection with Madoff's Ponzi scheme. He faces a maximum of 125 years on those charges, although he's likely to receive less because he's cooperating with the government. Sentencing is tentatively set for next May.

- Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

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