NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- U.S. stocks were set for a lackluster open Tuesday, as investor sentiment suffered a blow from dismal housing reports.
At 8:50 a.m. ET, Dow Jones industrial average, Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were lower, losing their earlier gains after disappointing reports on housing starts and building permits.
Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance and offer an indication of how markets may open when trading begins on Wall Street.
Economy: The Commerce Department reported declines in April for housing starts and building permits.
Building permits fell 3% to an annually adjusted rate of 494,000 in April, from the revised rate of 511,000 in March. That is 50% below the year-ago rate of 991,000, and significantly below Briefing.com's expectations of a rise to 530,000.
Housing starts in April dropped nearly 13% to the seasonally adjusted annual rate of 458,000, from the revised March rate of 525,000. This is down 54% from the year-ago rate of 1 million.
Housing starts were expected to increase to 527,000 units in April, according to Briefing.com consensus.
Companies: Home improvement retailer Home Depot (HP) reported quarterly earnings that beat expectations. The company posted operating income of 35 cents per share, while a consensus of analyst forecasts from Thomson Reuters had expected 29 cents.
Credit card company American Express (AXP, Fortune 500) said late Monday that it would slash 4,000 jobs, or about 6% of its global workforce.
On the tech front, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) is due to post results after U.S. markets close.
World markets: Stocks in Japan rallied, with the benchmark Nikkei gaining nearly 3%. In morning trading, major European exchanges were higher.
First Published: May 19, 2009: 5:39 AM ET
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - New construction of U.S. houses retreated to a new record low in April, the Commerce Department estimated Tuesday. Starts plunged 12.8% in April to a seasonally adjusted 458,000 annualized units, weaker than the 519,000 pace expected by economists surveyed by MarketWatch. It is the lowest level since the series began in 1959. The drop was concentrated in starts of large apartment units. Starts of new single-family homes rose by 2.8% to 368,000 in April, while starts of large apartment units fell 46.1% to 90,000. Building permits, a leading indicator of housing construction, fell 3.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 494,000. This is a record low for permits.