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Takeovers driving stock-index futures

A new flurry of takeovers is pushing U.S. stock-index futures higher before the opening Tuesday, with traders optimistic ahead of new data on consumer confidence and the housing market, and an interest-rate decision in Canada. Royal Bank of Scotland is bidding $95.5-billion (U.S.) to buy Dutch bank ABN Amro, trumping an earlier offer from Barclays PLC, which may have to toy with an offer of $100-billion if it makes a counter bid. In the U.S., Tishman Speyer Properties LP and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. are holding talks to buy Archstone-Smith Trust, the second-largest U.S. apartment real estate investment trust, for more than $12-billion. And private equity firms are in talks for a buyout of CDW Corp., a technology retailer with a market capitalization of about $6-billion, according to published reports. "Mergers and acquisitions are being driven by the low level of interest rates and the returns investors can get from equities," Nick Skiming, a fund manager at Ashburton Ltd., told Dow Jones. "For the moment, M&A should continue." S&P 500 futures are up 3 points, above fair value, with Dow industrial futures 28 points ahead. Investors may also be heartened by a new research note from Morgan Stanley that suggests the Chinese economy would be able to handle as much as a 30-per cent-plunge in its booming stock market. "Fear of a complete economic meltdown in China as a result of a potential burst of the stock market bubble is unwarranted at the current juncture," it said. A 30 per cent plunge in Chinese stocks would cause a drop of 0.2 percentage point in economic growth, which has been in the double digits for four consecutive years, it estimated. The key Shanghai Composite Index has jumped more than 60 per cent this year, fuelling international concerns about the impact of a deep correction. On the economic front, U.S. data on consumer confidence and the housing market is on tap for Tuesday, with the central bank in Canada expected to stay the course on interest rates for the time being. In a morning commentary, the Bank of Montreal is predicting a "semi-hawkish" statement from the Bank of Canada, with new wording that suggests "inflation risks are still only slightly tilted to the upside." Asian stock markets closed higher on Tuesday as investors welcomed a continued recovery of Japan's domestic economy after unemployment hit a nine-year low and consumer spending rose. Dealers say investor buying focused on recent decliners such as banks, real estate developers and shipping firms. On the commodity front, oil prices are slightly higher, even though trading is subdued, on hopes of increased stability in Nigeria. And while copper prices edged up, aluminium and zinc eased.

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