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Futures head higher for second day as Fed gathers

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In this Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 photo, specialist William Geier, left, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Investors took to the sidelines Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, a day ahead of a key policy decision from the U.S. Federal Reserve that may see the central bank reduce its massive monetary stimulus. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures are heading higher again as the U.S. Federal Reserve opens its highly anticipated two-day policy meeting, the last of the year.

KEEPING SCORE: Dow Jones industrial futures are up 22 points to 15,845. S&P futures have gained 1.1 points to 1,781.40. Nasdaq futures are up 3 points to 3,473.

BONDS THAT TIE: Just a month ago, no one would have questioned whether the Fed would extend its monthly $85 billion bond-buying program into 2014. A blockbuster jobs report and a possible budget deal have created a sliver of a chance that policymakers may begin to ease back on the throttle, or at least suggest that they may do so soon.

PRICE IS RIGHT: Economists expect that the Labor Department will report Tuesday that consumer prices increased 0.1 percent in November. A job market that is improving but still weak, and small wage increases have prohibited significant price increases from businesses. It's also given the Fed almost a free hand in its aggressive stimulus efforts. It is that meager inflation, well below the Fed's target rate, that policymakers must weigh against an improving employment landscape as they consider their next move.

IN THE HOUSE: The National Association of Home Builders releases its index of confidence among builders for December. The index was unmoved at 54 last month. Readings above 50 indicate that more builders view sales conditions as good rather than poor. That the index held steady is a good sign because mortgage rates are on the rise, pricing some prospective homebuyers out of the market. Shares of homebuilders are largely higher in premarket trading.

ON DECK: The Fed wraps up its meeting Wednesday, releases its projections and holds a news conference. Also, the week's first, big quarterly earnings will arrive Wednesday from FedEx, Oracle Corp and Neiman Marcus.