Feb. 27, 2013, 9:17 a.m. EST
By Kate Gibson and Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) — U.S. stock futures climbed on Wednesday after government data showed that, excluding volatile demand for transport equipment, durable-goods orders in January jumped the most in a year.
Stock-index futures held gains after the Commerce Department reported that total orders for goods meant to last more than three years slid 5.2%. Taking out bookings for transport items such as airplanes, bookings for goods made to last more than three years climbed 1.9%.Read more on durable goods.
Stock futures were already higher ahead of a second day of testimony from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Cheer derived from comments by the Fed chief and upbeat data drove gains for Wall Street a day earlier, but continued unease over Italy kept a lid on sentiment.
Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJH3 +0.08% rose 10 points to 13,869, while those for the Standard & Poor’s 500 SPH3 +0.07% rose 1.1 point to 1,493.5.
Futures for the Nasdaq 100 index NDH3 +0.31% rose 3.75 points to 2,711.50.
“Since last Wednesday, the markets are in the process of a slow transition from an overtly bullish phase to a more questionable phase,” said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of New York-based Sarhan Capital. ”The bulls are fighting to stay in control of this market and the bears are trying to take control.”
Next up for markets: a report due at 10 a.m. Eastern from the National Association of Realtors on pending home sales in January. But the star of the day is likely to be Bernanke, who will appear before the House Financial Services Committee at 10 a.m. Eastern for the second day of the Fed’s semiannual report to Congress on the economy and monetary policy.
On Tuesday, Bernanke provided a bit of a bounce for Wall Street after sending a firm signal that he backs a continuation of the central bank’s $85 billion bond-buying program. “In the current economic environment, the benefits of asset purchases…are clear,” he said. Read: Bernanke: QE benefits clear, risks manageable.
Also Wednesday, Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher, who isn’t a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee, will speak about the economic and monetary-policy outlook at 4:30 p.m. Eastern at Columbia University in New York City.
Also, just two days remain until March 1, when automatic spending cuts will kick in unless politicians can reach a compromise. “A last- minute solution is a possibility, as with the fiscal cliff two months ago, but it is unlikely to be a smooth ride,” said Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG, in emailed comments. Slide show: Charting the sequester’s impact.
Along with Bernanke, markets were also helped Tuesday by solid housing data. The Dow Jones Industrial AverageDJIA +0.31% racked up its second triple-digit gain in three sessions, closing up 115.96 points, or 0.8%, to 13,900.13. The index had lost 216.40 points Monday amid worries about another crisis building in Europe after an inconclusive election result in Italy. Read: U.S. stocks build gains on housing data.
Italy continued to haunt markets on Wednesday, as Europe limped along despite those Wall Street gains. The Stoxx Europe 600 index XX:SXXP +0.40% fell and Italian stocks were trading flat after a nearly 5% rout the prior day. Read: Europe stocks rebound from Italy-driven selloff
Asia stocks mostly rose, benefiting from Bernanke’s comments and U.S. economic data. But Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average JP:100000018 -1.27% dropped as the dollar continued to rise against the yen. Read: Asia stocks mostly advance on U.S. cues.
Target Corp. TGT -1.86% fell 2.7% in premarket trading after the retailer reported a 2% fall in fourth-quarter profit, while sales rose 6.8%. Read: Target profit drops, but adjusted net up 10%
First Solar Inc. FSLR -15.12% shares fell nearly 15% in the premarket. After hours on Tuesday, the solar-energy-farm developer estimated first-quarter sales below Wall Street estimates. Read more on First Solar.
And J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. JPM +2.33% inched up. Chief Executive James Dimon told analysts that the bank will be cutting $1 billion of costs in 2013 and eliminating as many as 19,000 jobs by the end of 2014. Read more on J.P. Morgan’s cost-cutting plans.
Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.Barbara Kollmeyer is an editor for MarketWatch in Madrid. Follow her on Twitter @bkollmeyer.