* China exports top expectations
* Jacobs Engineering to buy Sinclair Knight
* Koch Industries to buy Molex for about $7.2 billion
* Futures up: Dow 3.5 pts, S&P 26 pts, Nasdaq 12.75 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Sept 9 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks were set for a modestly higher open on Monday in the wake of upbeat economic data from China, though concerns remained about the possibility of a Western strike against Syria.
China, the world’s second-biggest economy, reported its exports had grown by 7.2 percent in August, beating market expectations for a 6 percent increase, while consumer inflation held steady in August.
“The news out of China continues to get better, inflation basically in line with expectations - in fact, a little bit better - and trade data over the weekend was better,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.
“The major focus is going to be the debate on a strike against Syria in Congress, so the market will stay within a very contained trading range for most of the day as the geopolitical headlines continue to keep investors rather cautious.”
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied he was behind a chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians, as the White House pressed ahead Sunday with the uphill effort of persuading Congress to approve a military strike to punish Assad. The Obama administration faces a test vote Wednesday in the U.S. Senate.
Assad has warned against possible reprisal attacks if the U.S. attacks Syria, saying that in response, Americans can “expect every action.”
The S&P 500 has risen for four straight sessions and is up 16 percent for the year, largely driven by the $85-billion monthly bond purchases of the Fed, aimed at stimulating the economy.
Economists at a majority of U.S. primary dealers expect the Fed to announce, at a two-day policy meeting next week, that it will start to pare back its bond purchases soon, according to a Reuters poll.
S&P 500 futures rose 3.5 points and were 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 gained 26 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 12.75 points.
Molex Inc , a maker of electronic, electrical and fiber optic interconnection systems, said privately owned Koch Industries will buy it for about $7.2 billion.
Jacobs Engineering Group Inc, one of the world’s largest construction consulting firms, said Sunday it would buy Australia’s Sinclair Knight Merz for about A$1.3 billion ($1.2 billion) in cash.
The U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment has cleared the way for Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd’s proposed $4.7 billion acquisition of Smithfield Foods Inc, the companies said late Friday. Smithfield shares rose 1.1 percent to $34.30 in premarket trading.
U.S.-listed shares of BlackBerry Ltd gained 3 percent to $11.16 before the opening bell, after the Sunday Times reported that the company’s largest shareholder, Prem Watsa, had assembled billions of dollars in backing from Canada’s biggest pension funds for a possible rescue deal for the battered smartphone maker.
Isis Pharmaceuticals Inc jumped 8.6 percent to $30.31 in premarket trading after the company said it had reached a collaboration with Biogen Idec Inc on treatments for neurological disorders.
Delta Air Lines Inc will join the S&P 500 index after the close of trading Sept. 10, replacing BMC Software . Delta shares rose 5.2 percent to $20.93 in premarket trading.