Stock index futures pointed to a flat open on Tuesday as investors held back from making large bets ahead of a busy week for corporate earnings and after recently notching five-year highs.
Both the Dow and S&P 500 closed at their highest levels so far in this earnings season, with the gains largely coming on better-than-expected results. But despite bullish statements from major companies, including big banks, many investors are worried other reports will reflect economic uncertainty in the fourth quarter.
"The market has been pleased with earnings thus far, and it is encouraging to see a cyclical company like DuPont show revenue strength, but I'm waiting on more tech and energy earnings until I come down one way or the other on this season," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of Sarhan Capital in New York.
DuPont reported revenue that was ahead of Wall Street expectations, sending shares up 1.4 percent to $47.65 before the opening bell. However, slumping demand for pigment and solar panel parts hurt fourth-quarter profit.
Travelers Cos Inc gained 2.9 percent to $78.50 after forecasting higher premiums across its businesses, though it also posted earnings that fell by half from losses related to Hurricane Sandy.
On the downside, Johnson & Johnson , the diversified health company, fell 0.9 percent to $72.55 after forecasting 2013 earnings below expectations, while Verizon Communications Inc lost 1.5 percent to $41.90 after reporting a steep loss on pension liabilities and charges related to Sandy.
All four companies are Dow components, while Google Inc and Texas Instruments are scheduled to report after the market closes. Tech earnings will be in particular focus after Intel Corp last week gave a revenue outlook that was below expectations.
Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings are forecast to have risen 2.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. That estimate is above the 1.9 percent forecast from a week ago but well below the 9.9 percent fourth-quarter earnings forecast from October 1, the data showed.
S&P 500 futures fell 1.4 point and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 18 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 1.25 points.
Monday was a market holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. President Barack Obama at his inauguration for a second term on Monday called for aggressive action on climate change, economic equality and the federal budget.
"It remains a question whether Obama will be able to deliver on his agenda, but a sector like solar power companies could continue to be strong as he pushes for action," Sarhan said.
Markets have recently been pressured by uncertainty stemming from Washington about the federal debt limit and spending cuts that could hamper U.S. growth.
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives said they aim to pass on Wednesday a nearly four-month extension of the U.S. debt limit, allowing the government to borrow enough to meet its obligations during that period.
U.S. shares of Research in Motion jumped 7 percent to $16.95 in premarket trading a day after its chief executive said the company may consider strategic alliances with other companies after the launch of devices powered by RIM's new BlackBerry 10 operating system.
The Dow and S&P 500 closed at five-year highs on Friday as the market registered a third straight week of gains on a solid start to the quarterly earnings season, including positive results from Morgan Stanley and General Electric Co .
(Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Kenneth Barry)