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Futures Higher Ahead of Fed; Housing Helps

CNBC.com
Tuesday, 16 Mar 2010 | 8:41 AM ET

Stock index futures indicated a modest gain for Wall Street ahead of the Federal Reserve's decision on interest rates later in the day.

For the first time since September 2008, the Federal Open Market Committee meeting is only a one-day event, with the latest policy statement expected around 2:15 pm New York time.

Futures added to earlier modest gains after the government reported better readings than expected on housing starts and building permits, as well as drops in import and export prices about in line with estimates.

Goldman Sachs said there is a 50 percent chance that health care legislation will be passed and thus changed its ratings on several companies in the sector, increasing its exposure to smaller companies and cutting managed care.

Goldman downgraded Boston Scientific to "conviction sell" from "neutral," sending its shares off nearly 3 percent in light premarket trading. It also upgraded Coventry Health Care to "neutral" from "conviction sell."

General Electric shares also rose 1.2 percent as traders moved toward the $17.50 March call options for the CNBC.com parent company.

There are several pieces of news for energy traders Tuesday morning. Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said OPEC is likely to keep output the same for the remainder of the year, amid signs that oil demand is increasing.

Many OPEC members have expressed concern that the cartel is pumping too much oil. And the Energy Department reported that U.S. retail gasoline prices are now at their highest since October 2008.

EU finance ministers agreed on a Greek aid plan that could be implemented if needed, but they have not yet revealed exactly how this standby plan would work.

Intel could be a stock to watch, as it releases its newest chips for servers ahead of rival Advanced Micro Devices. These are the first of a new generation of powerful chips that push performance while increasing energy efficiency.

China said Google should obey Chinese government rules even if it shuts down its Chinese Web site. Google shares have been falling on increasing signs that it's planning to pull out of China in a dispute over censorship.

And Limited Brands announced a $1 a share special dividend and authorized a $200 million share repurchase program. That helped push the shares up 4 percent in after-hours trading.

- Written by Peter Schacknow, Senior Producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk.

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