* Housing permits jump to highest level since Oct 2008
* Italian govt seeks deal with unions on labor laws
* Futures off: Dow 64 pts, S&P 6.4 pts, Nasdaq 14 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, March 20 (Reuters) - U.S. stock were set for a lower open on Tuesday as equities appeared ready to pause after the S&P 500 advanced for a third straight session, moving within 10 percent of its historic closing high.
The benchmark S&P has risen in eight of the past nine sessions, putting the index at its highest point since May 2008 and 10 percent below the record close of 1,565.15 in October 2007.
The market has shrugged off sluggish starts to the session recently, building upward momentum to finish higher.
Easing concerns about the euro zone debt crisis and improving domestic data have lifted the S&P index more than 12 percent for the year and over 28 percent from the October low.
U.S. Commerce Department data showed a steady improvement in the housing market, as permits for future construction jumped to their highest level since October 2008, although starts fell.
"It seems like a market that probably just needs to take a rest, but I wouldn't be surprised -- this is kind of the pattern -- either flat or negative futures, and we rally into the day. It's sort of remarkable," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago.
"It is now a focus back on the fundamentals on the economy and those news items aren't quite as daunting, it's really just fine tuning."
Investors will monitor talks as Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti began a final push for a deal with unions to revamp labor laws aimed at creating jobs and underpinning wider reforms to aid the weak economy.
Adding to concern were signs of slowing in China's economy as Australian miners such as BHP Billiton signaled iron ore demand was weakening. U.S.-listed shares of BHP fell 3 percent to $73.23 premarket.
S&P 500 futures fell 7.4 points and were below 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 dropped 64 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 14 points.
Jewelry chain Tiffany and Co forecast higher fiscal-year results, helped by expansion in Asia and the Americas and sales that so far are in line with its projections. Shares rose 4 percent to $71.40 premarket.
Earnings were also expected from contract manufacturer Jabil Circuit Inc, software maker Oracle Corp, computer contractor SAIC Inc.
Adobe Systems Inc lost 4.4 percent to $32.99 in light premarket trade after the maker of the Photoshop and Acrobat software reported quarterly revenue growth slowed, missing forecasts.
Bank of America Corp gained 0.6 percent to $9.59 after the company said it won't issue additional equity in a secondary offering, contrary to rumors that may have lowered its stock price during Monday trading.
Walt Disney Co expects its science-fiction movie "John Carter" to lose about $200 million, leading its studio unit to post an operating loss of $80 million to $120 million in the fiscal second quarter.