U.S. stocks were trading near flat ahead of the opening bell on Tuesday, as investors turned their attention to corporate earnings, which unofficially kicks off later today with earnings from aluminum giant Alcoa (NYSE:AA).
Futures were lately pointing down slightly. Dow futures were down 2 points, or 0.2%, to 13,305, while S&P 500 futures were lower by 1.8 points, or 0.12%, to 1,456.23. Futures on the Nasdaq were off 2.75 points, or 0.1%, to 2,715.00.
Ahead of the bell, agriculture firm Monsanto (NYSE:MON) reported earnings that beat Street estimates by a wide margin, and raised its outlook for the year. Shares of the company rose almost 4% premarket.
Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are expected to grow 2.8% compared to the same period in 2011, according to Thomson Reuters data.
As per usual, aluminum producer and economic bellwether Alcoa (NYSE:AA) will kickoff earnings season Tuesday after market close. Analysts expect earnings of 6 cents a share, compared to a year-earlier loss of 3 cents.
Stocks ended lower Monday, with the Dow index down more than 50 points.
In Washington, President Obama and Republicans in Congress last week reached a deal to hike tax rates for couples with an annual income that is greater than $450,000, avoiding the fiscal cliff. But the deal simply delayed automatic spending cuts until March 1 and left negotiations for raising the nation's debt ceiling open.
Democrats say they want to raise as much as $1 trillion in new revenue through tax reform this year, and Republicans are against this. Congress has to move as soon as mid-February to keep the country out of default.
In economic data, metro area unemployment in November is due out shortly after the open today. The Federal Reserve is also set to release data on consumer credit for November at 3 p.m. ET.
In corporate news, shares of Yum Brands (NYSE:YUM) were down more than 4% premarket after the restaurant operator late Monday said its fourth quarter sales in China would be weaker than expected due to a scandal over food safety standards, which hurt its KFC operations there during the last two weeks of December.
Meanwhile, shares of Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) rose more than 2.5% after the department store retailer said CEO Louis D'Ambrosio is stepping down due to family health reasons. Sears chairman and hedge fund manager Edward Lampert will become the new CEO next month.
As a number of banks lower their forecasts for the metal this year, gold for February delivery gained $5.8 in electronic trade to $1,652.10 an ounce. February crude rose 36 cents to $93.55 a barrel.
Most European markets were higher in early afternoon trade, despite a record-high unemployment report out today. The FTSE 100 was 0.13%, the CAC 40 was higher by 0.53% and the DAX in Germany was steady.