US stock-index futures little changed in low volume trade

U.S. stock-index futures remained almost unchanged, after the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index advanced for a second week, heading toward its biggest annual gain since 1997.

Futures on the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index expiring in March fell less than 0.1% to 1,836.30 at 12:04 p.m. in London. The S&P 500 climbed to a record last week and is poised for a 29% gain this year. Dow Jones Industrial Average contracts added 5 points, less than 0.1%, to 16,426.

“Over the course of next year, you are still going to see pretty good returns in the equity markets,” Joseph Tanious, who helps oversee $1.5 trillion as global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management, said on Bloomberg Television with Trish Regan and Adam Johnson. “On the back of an improving economic backdrop, and confidence, markets move higher.”

Pending home sales, the number of contracts Americans signed to buy previously-owned homes, rose 1% in November, the first monthly gain since May, according to the median estimate of 26 economists, before todays report due at 10 a.m. in Washington.

Stocks in Asia mostly rose on Monday, with the Nikkei 225 finishing the year 57% higher, its best year since 1972 and a clear out-performer among Asia markets. The region’s worst-performing market this year is the Shanghai Composite index, which is down 7.6% so far this year.

In Europe, stocks were drifting lower after a steady open.

In corporate news, shares of Apple Inc. could be active after the technology company told shareholders to reject a buyback plan from billionaire investor Carl Icahn, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on Friday.

Merck is planning a massive overhaul of its research and development practices, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal late Friday. Shares of the Dow industrials component rose 0.2% to $49.91 in after-hours activity.

Shares of WPCS International Inc. continued trading heavily after the bell Friday, a day when shares shot up nearly 68% to close at $2.53 after the launch of a trading platform for bitcoins. The day’s trading volume topped more than 1.5 million shares, more than triple its average regular session trading volume. Shares were down 3.2% at $2.45 after-hours at last check. WPCS International Inc. announced after the close on Thursday that its wholly-owned subsidiary, BTX Trader LLC has released a beta version of its Windows-based trading platform that is now available to the public at www.btxtrader.com. BTX Trader is the first trading platform to enable Bitcoin traders to access market data and execute orders on the five most popular Bitcoin exchanges.

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