Traders will also be watching for oil inventory data from the government at 10:30 a.m. as the conflict in Libya and tensions in Yemen and Syria continue to drive prices higher. Oil pricesrose as tensions in the Middle East and North Africa continued. London Brent crude traded above $115 a barrel, while U.S. light sweet crude traded above $104 a barrel.
Crude oil inventories rose by 2.1 million barrels, according to the Department of Energy. Gasoline inventories fell by 5.3 million.
In corporate news, Bank of America fell after news the Federal Reserve didn't give the banking giantthe go-ahead to raise its dividend. The bank said it will seek permission to provide a modest dividend in the second half of 2011.
General Mills slumped after the maker of Wheaties and Green Giant foods said commodities inflation would affect revenuesthis year and next, and delivered a disappointing report on fiscal third-quarter domestic sales.
Adobe Systems declined after reducing its revenue forecast for Japan by one third.
And Toyota slumped as it said the disaster in Japan will delay the Japan launch of two new Prius models due to production disruptions.
Motricity , which provides a technology for non-smartphones to surf the Internet, continued to rise in after-market trading. (Read more: Cramer: This Tech Stock Is 'Misunderstood.')
New home sales sank 16.9 percent in February to a seasonally adjusted annual unit rate of 250,000, the lowest since records of sales have been kept. January sales were at an upwardly revised 301,000-unit pace. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected new sales would rise to an annual rate of 290,000 from the previously reported 284,000 in January.
Home builders slumped on the news, with Hovananian , Toll Brothers and KB Homes among those taking the biggest hit.
Also on the economic front, the Mortgage Bankers Association'sseasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity rose 2.7 percent for the week ended March 18.
Also, investors will keep a close eye on comments by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who speaks to the Independent Community Bankers of America convention at 12 p.m.
Egypt’s stock market reopened Wednesday morning after a two-month suspension put in place when stocks plunged as a revolution shook the country. Trading was halted just moments after the bourse reopened when circuit breakers kicked in, but later resumed, with further heavy selling by foreign investors.
Europe’s sovereign debt crisis could add to uncertainty Wednesday as Portugal’s parliament votes on the government’s austerity measures.
The vote could spell the collapse of the government and further trouble for the debt-battered country.
On Tap This Week:
WEDNESDAY: Caterpillar analyst meeting; annual meetings for Disney, HP and Starbucks; new home sales, oil inventories.
THURSDAY: EU summit; durable goods, jobless claims, natural gas inventories, 10-year TIPS auction, money supply; before-the-bell earnings from Best Buy and ConAgra; after-the-bell earnings from Oracle, Research in Motion.
FRIDAY: USDA food prices outlook; GDP revision, corporate profits, and consumer sentiment.
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