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) -- Stock futures were pointing to a higher open Wednesday, with the

S&P 500

poised to extend a two-month high as investors remained optimistic about a deal on the U.S. "fiscal cliff" and confidence rose over the nascent housing market recovery.

Also helping to lift sentiment was stronger-than-anticipated data on German business confidence, with Germany's Ifo survey indicating that sentiment advanced for the second straight month in December.

Futures for the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

were up 37 points, or 37.04 points above fair value, at 13,313. Futures for the

S&P 500

were up 4.75 points, or 5.56 points above fair value, at 1445. Futures for the


were up 9.50 points, or 11.21 points above fair value, at 2711.

"A stronger euro ... an approaching fiscal deal should continue to fuel the year-end rally which we believe will take the indices higher in these last trading days of the year," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital.

Major U.S. stock averages soared Tuesday as signs of progress on the "fiscal cliff" talks and improving homebuilder confidence lifted investors' spirits.

House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday and proposed a so-called "Plan B," which the White House subsequently rejected. Stocks continued to climb despite the political posturing.

The Census Bureau reported Wednesday that housing starts declined to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 861,000 in November from a downwardly revised 888,000 units in October. Economists, on average, had expected a rate of 873,000 for November.

Building permits rose to a pace of 899,000 in November from an upwardly revised 868,000 in October. Expectations called for an increase to a pace of 875,000 in November.

"Housing starts were slightly lower than expected while the level of building permits -- a useful gauge of the future health of the housing market -- rose to the strongest since July 2008," noted Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak. "The level of starts fell for the first time in three months yet there is little question about the momentum that has characterized the homebuilding market for more than two years."

Overseas markets showed strength amid hopes that a U.S. budget deal will be reached before Jan. 1 in Washington. The FTSE 100 in London was up 0.63% and the DAX in Germany was higher by 0.27%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index finished higher by 0.57% and the Japan's Nikkei average settled up 2.39%.

Gold for February delivery was up 70 cents at $1,671.40 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while February crude oil contracts were up 36 cents at $88.76 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was rising 5/32, diluting the yield to 1.806%. The dollar was off 0.28%, according to the

U.S. dollar index.

In corporate news,



, the Swiss bank, admitted to fraud, agreeing Wednesday to pay about

$1.5 billion in fines in the Libor rate-rigging scandal.

Shares were gaining close to 1.5% in premarket trading Wednesday.



reported fiscal second-quarter earnings

that topped Wall Street estimates.

Shares were tacking on more than 2.5%.

Shipping giant



posted fiscal second-quarter earnings of $1.39 a share as superstorm Sandy impacted the quarter's results by 11 cents a share due to reduced shipment volumes and incremental operating costs.

Revenue came in at $11.1 billion.

The consensus was calling for earnings of $1.41 a share on revenue of $10.84 billion.

Shares were rising 0.86%.


will buy

Knight Capital Group


for about

$2 billion after sweetening its offer for the market-maker,


reported, citing people close to the deal.

Shares of Knight Capital were surging more than 7%.

General Mills


on Wednesday posted second-quarter profit of 86 cents a share on revenue of $4.88 billion, beating the bottom-line estimate of 79 cents a share and matching top-line expectations amid good performance by each of the company's operating segments.

Shares were advancing by more than 1.5%.



is close to buying rival

Gardner Denver


for about $4.2 billion, as it makes progress in securing financing, a source familiar with the matter told



A deal could value Gardner Denver at about $85 share; Gardner Denver's shares closed Tuesday at $73.68.

SPX shares were off 0.49%, while Gardner Denver shares were popping more than 4.5%.

Stimuvax, an experimental cancer immunotherapy from

Merck KGaA





failed to improve survival

in a late-stage study of non-small cell lung cancer patients, the companies announced Wednesday.

Oncothyreon shares were plummeting by more than 61%.

Sirius XM Radio


announced that James Meyer, who has served as the company's president of sales and operations since May 2004, has been appointed CEO on an interim basis.He succeeds Mel Karmazin who previously said that he will not be renewing his current employment agreement.

Shares were up over 1%.

Delphi Automotive



Titanium Metals


in the S&P 500 index after the close on Friday.

Delphi shares were spiking 4.5%.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here:

Andrea Tse


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