Futures Pare Losses as Consumer Prices Plunge

Stock index futures pared their losses Tuesday after a report showed consumer prices posted their biggest decline in 61 years.

Wrangling over the bailout for auto makers, banks and the general economy continued to dominate sentiment.

Futures for the three major indexes were below fair-market levels that take into account dividend income, days to expiration in the futures contract and the short-term interest rate.

"The uncertainty around the automakers is weighing heavy on the futures this morning," Tim Mole, head of CFD's at SVS Securities, told "Worldwide Exchange."

It's a "gauging point of the U.S. economy," he added.

Consumer prices fell 1 percent in October, the biggest drop since 1947. Excluding volatile food and energy costs, core CPI slipped 0.1 percent. Both gauges fell more than expected.

Meanwhile, housing starts came in worse than expected, falling 4.5 percent to a a record 791,000 annual rate. It was the lowest reading since the measure was created in the late 1940s.

Shares at both General Motors and Ford dropped about 2 percent before the opening bell, as Ford said November sales would be "terrible" and the industry will need to offer more cash incentives to increase sales during the winter months.

Executives from the auto makers warned Congress that the industry was on the brink of collapse as they called for a $25 billion aid package on Tuesday.

The House Financial Services Committee gets its chance to grill the heads of the Big Three auto-makers at a hearing which starts at 10 am New York time.

Meanwhile President-elect Barack Obama came under pressure from chief executives of leading U.S. companies to implement a fiscal stimulus package and name his economic team.

One of the bailout recipients, American International Group, will pay roughly $3 million to executives under deferred compensation plans that are being terminated, according to a regulatory filing. The insurer halted plans last week to pay $503 million in deferred compensation.

At 10 am congressional hearings will see the Senate Judiciary Committee speak on "keeping families in their homes" and the Senate Budget Committee talk about "options for stimulus."

Also taking to the stage is Federal Reserve Vice-Chairman Donald Kohn who will speak at 9 am and Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker, who is due to talk at 1:30 pm.

On the earnings front, BJ's Wholesale will report earnings numbers before the bell.

U.S. oil inventory data is due to be released at 10:35 am.