US STOCKS-Futures flat after rally, Caterpillar climbs early

Last Updated: Mon, Jan 28, 2013 13:10 hrs

* Caterpillar higher after fourth-quarter results

* S&P 500 coming off eight straight days of gains

* Bargain hunters may look at Apple following recent drop

* Durable goods, pending home sales data on tap

* Futures up: Dow 15 pts, S&P 2 pts, Nasdaq 1.75 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Jan 28 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were little changed on Monday, with investors reluctant to make big bets following a rally that took the S&P 500 above 1,500 for the first time in more than five years.

A strong start to the earnings season has boosted equities, with major averages rising for four straight weeks. The S&P has gained for eight straight days, its longest winning streak in eight years.

Over the past four weeks, the S&P has jumped 7.2 percent, suggesting markets may be vulnerable to a pullback if news disappoints.

Caterpillar Inc rose 1.2 percent to $96.71 in premarket trading after the Dow component reported adjusted fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations, though revenue was slightly below forecasts. The heavy machinery maker also said it remained cautious on the economy despite recent improvements.

"This is not a disappointment, more of a neutral, even though the revenue is a little light," said Chris Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial Private Capital in Sarasota, Florida. "Futures seem to have discounted it."

Thomson Reuters data through Friday showed that of the 147 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far, 68 percent exceeded expectations. Since 1994, 62 percent of companies have topped expectations, while the average over the past four quarters stands at 65 percent.

Yahoo Inc reports after the closing bell, and could face heightened expectations following strong results at Google Inc last week.

S&P 500 futures rose 2 points but were slightly below above 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 added 15 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 1.75 points.

The S&P 500 closed at its highest since Dec. 10, 2007, and the Dow ended at its highest since Oct. 31, 2007.

"Markets may need some back and fill given the rip we've been on, but right now optimism is the rule," said Bertelsen.

In addition to earnings, equities have also risen on an agreement in Washington to extend the government's borrowing power. On Monday, Fitch Ratings said that agreement removed the near-term risk to the country's 'AAA' rating.

Previously, the agency said the lack of an agreement would prompt a review of the sovereign rating.

Investors are waiting for reports on durable goods orders and pending home sales, both for December. Durable goods are due at 8:30 a.m. (1330 GMT) and are seen rising 1.8 percent. Pending home sales are seen rising 0.3 percent.

Last week, sales of new U.S. single-family homes fell in December but rose in 2012 to the highest level since 2009, a sign the U.S. housing market turned a corner last year.

Bargain hunters may look to Apple Inc in the first session after the tech giant lost its coveted title as the largest U.S. company by market capitalization to Exxon Mobil Corp. On Friday, Apple's market cap fell to $413 billion, down roughly $250 billion from its September peak. Apple's fall is about equal to the entire value of Google Inc .

"Apple is pretty attractive right now, so you may see an opportunity here," said Bertelsen, who helps oversee $1.5 billion in assets. "Those who think the stock is dead have made a big mistake."

U.S. stocks rose on Friday, lifted by strong results from such companies as Procter & Gamble. The rise put the S&P 500 about 4.1 percent away from its all-time closing high of 1,565.15 on Oct. 9, 2007.

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