Futures Edge Higher; Citi Gets Boost, M&A Helps

U.S. stock index futures were flat to slightly higher Wednesday after Wall Street eked out a gain Tuesday and investors waiting for news on the housing sector and business inventories.

Citigroup helped give the market some early momentum. Its shares gained 1.6 percent as Rochdale Securities analyst Richard Bove gave the company a vote of confidence during a CNBC interview, and as reports surfaced that the company's real estate unit might be purchased by Apollo Management.

Also in financials, Bank of America has announced that it will stop charging fees on overdrafts from debit cards. The bank said charges will simply be declined for debit charges from accounts with insufficient funds. BofA shares were up about 1 percent premarket.

In mergers and acquisition news, Abbott Laboratories is acquiring Facet Biotech for $27 a share, after a hostile offer of $17.50 from Biogen Idec failed. The cash deal will cost about $450 million.

Facet shares jumped 40 percent premarket, about in line with the premium from the deal, while Abbott shares edged higher.

Elsewhere, InterMune's experimental drug to treat lung scarring received backing from a Food and Drug Administration panel. The company's shares surged 40 percent premarket.

The government will release its report on wholesale inventories for January at 10 am, with economists predicting a rise of 0.2 percent. Inventories dropped 0.8 percent in December.

Apparel chain American Eagle Outfitters is due to report fiscal fourth-quarter results before the bell and analysts predicted it will make a profit of 33 cents a share on sales of $969 million.

Asian stocks ended mixed, while European markets were virtually flat in mid-morning trade.

Meanwhile, U.S. economists trimmed their growth forecast for next year, although they raised expectations for economic growth this year, a survey released Wednesday showed.

But economist Nouriel Roubini, who predicted the 2007 financial crisis, said in a research note that the risk of a double-dip recession has risen because of poor economic data in the US and Europe's debt crisis.

On the Asian front, China's exports and imports grew faster than forecast in February, reinforcing the case for a strengthening yuan.

In corporate news, Bank of America plans to stop debit card purchases from going through if customers don't have enough money in their accounts, to comply with new regulation of overdraft fees due to come into force in July.

And Toyota and U.S. safety regulators sent inspectors to San Diego to investigate the case of a Prius that accelerated out of control on a freeway in California and had to be brought to a halt by a police car.