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Stock Futures Rise on 2012’s First Trading Day

NEW YORK  — Stock futures were climbing ahead of the first trading day of the new year, with expectations of improving U.S. economic data giving a jump start to 2012.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 183 points, or 181 points above fair value, at 12,333. Futures for the S&P 500 were up 19.2 points, or 19.2 points above fair value, at 1272. Futures for the Nasdaq were up 36.5 points, or 36.4 points above fair value, at 2311.

After a lull in trading during the last days of 2011, investors will dive into the new year with readings on the health of the U.S. economy. At 10 a.m., economists expect the Institute for Supply Management to report that its manufacturing index inched higher in December. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters expect the index to come in at 53.2, up slightly from 52.7 in November. Readings of more than 50 indicate economic expansion.

At the same time, the Census Bureau is expected to report a 0.5% rise in construction spending for November, extending a 0.8% increase in the prior month. November is likely to be the fourth straight month of increases.

Investors will also be scrutinizing minutes from the December meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee, due out at 2 p.m. Economists think that the central bank could reveal a change to its communications strategy.

European headlines surrounding the region’s debt crisis are still a concern, although a key meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy won’t take place until next Monday. The two leaders are expected to work out details on stricter rules to curb government spending.

On Tuesday, Germany’s DAX was climbing 0.9% while London’s FTSE was up 1.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 2.4%.

The Spanish government said last week that the country’s budget deficit will be worse than expected. As part of Spain’s economic plan, the country will be cutting spending, raising taxes, freezing wages — doing all the things that Greece, Portugal and Italy were forced to do.

“The biggest question for 2012 is ‘will the US economy continue to grow slow, but steady?'” said Marc Pado, market strategist with Cantor Fitzgerald. “Shorter term, we’re looking forward to an earnings-driven rally in January, but then would take a defensive position, as Congress debates a budget proposal and the European Union turmoil heightens,” added Pado.

“From the corporate side, cash is still king. Inventories are low. Costs are contained. If a stronger dollar pressures crude, costs could come down some. Employment is low and productivity is high, which is a positive for profit margins.”

The Dow closed out 2011 with a solid 5.6% gain while the S&P 500 closed the year essentially flat and the Nasdaq dropped by 1.7%.

In corporate news, Chesapeake Energy(CHK_) and EnerVest will receive $2.3 billion from France’s Total(TOT_) for a 25% stake in a joint venture for oil drilling in the Utica Shale area of Ohio. Under the deal, Total will pay Chesapeake $610 million up front for 619,000 acres in 10 counties in Ohio; EnerVest is receiving $290 million. Chesapeake will get a further $1.42 billion in exchange for drilling through 2014. Chesapeake shares were rising 3.4% to $23.05 in premarket trading Tuesday. Total shares were up 1.6%.

BP(BP_) is calling on Halliburton(HAL_) to pay all costs related to the clean-up of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in April 2010. BP, the U.K. oil giant, previously put the costs at around $42 billion, according to Reuters. Halliburton cemented the failed well that caused the biggest offshore oil spill in the U.S. The explosion of the well also killed 11 people. BP, in a court filing, said it was suing to recover costs and expenses from cleaning up the oil spill, lost profit, and “all other costs and damages incurred by BP related to the Deepwater Horizon incident and resulting oil spill,” Reuters reported. BP shares rose 1.9% to $43.56 in premarket trading. Halliburton shares were trading slightly lower.

Sears(SHLD_), which said last week it was closing up to 120 of its stores after a dismal holiday selling season, named a new chief merchandising officer on Tuesday. The struggling department-store retailer tapped Ron Boire as executive vice president, chief merchandising officer and president of its Sears and Kmart formats. Boire was previously president and CEO of Brookstone. The stock gained 2% to $32.40 in premarket trading.

February oil futures were up $2.67 to $101.50 a barrel. In other commodities, February gold futures were up $30.90 to $1,598 an ounce.

The dollar index was down 0.7%. The benchmark 10-year Treasury was down 21/32 pushing the yield to 1.947%.

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