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Private Employment Layoffs Reached 20,000 in February

NEW YORK -- Stock futures were trading in a narrow range Wednesday as investors avoided making big bets ahead of a key report on the service sector industry.

Traders showed little reaction after a payroll company's report on monthly job losses was in line with expectations.

Overseas markets were mixed after debt-burdened Greece announced an austerity budget plan that creates $6.5 billion in savings. Concerns about Greece's debt problems have dogged the markets in recent weeks, but eased recently.

In the U.S., ADP said employers cut 20,000 jobs last month, matching forecasts from economists polled by Thomson Reuters. High unemployment remains one of the biggest obstacles to a strong, sustained economic recovery.

The ADP report is considered a barometer for what the government's monthly employment report might say. The Labor Department is expected to say the unemployment rate edged up to 9.8 percent last month and that employers cut 50,000 jobs.

A separate report on the health of the service sector is expected to show modest improvement. Economists predict the Institute of Supply Management's service sector index rose to 51 last month from 50.5 in January. Any reading above 50 indicates growth.

The report, due out at 10 a.m. EST, is closely watched because service jobs comprise more than 80 percent of non-farm U.S. employment. The sector is highly reliant on consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of all economic activity.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 1, or less than 0.1 percent, to 10,400. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures rose 0.30, or less than 0.1 percent, to 1,117.70, while Nasdaq 100 index futures fell 3.25, or 0.2 percent, to 1,849.00.

Investors will also get better clues about regional economic activity after the Federal Reserve releases its beige book report at 2 p.m. EST.

Stocks edged higher for the third straight day on Tuesday. A recent surge in dealmaking has investors upbeat about growth potential.

CF Industries made a new offer for Terra Industries, which last month agreed to be sold to Norway's Yara for $4.1 billion. Dow Chemical Co. Bain Capital agreed to buy a plastics business from Dow Chemical Co. for $1.63 billion.

Big acquisitions are often seen as signs of confidence in the economy.

The Dow rose less than 0.1 percent, reaching its highest level since Jan. 20. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent.

Meanwhile, bond prices fell slightly Wednesday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.62 percent from 3.61 percent late Tuesday.

The dollar fell against other major currencies. Gold rose slightly.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.3 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 dipped 0.1 percent, Germany's DAX fell 0.1 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 0.2 percent.