Here are the most important news, trends and analysis that investors need to start their trading day:1. Futures are flat ahead of housing data, Fed minutesTraders work on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 17, 2021.Andrew Kelly | ReutersU.S. stock futures were flat Wednesday as traders awaited key housing data and a summary of the Federal Reserve’s recent meeting. S&P 500 futures dipped about 1 point, while Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were down 46 points, or 0.1%. Nasdaq 100 futures climbed just 0.2%. Wednesday’s moves come a day after the 30-stock Dow dropped 282 points, while the S&P 500 posted its biggest one-day loss since July 19.U.S. housing starts and building permits data for July is set for release at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists expect housing starts to have fallen by 3.2% to 1.59 million, according to Dow Jones. Building permits are expected to come in at 1.61 million, up 0.8%. The Fed minutes are set to come out at 2 p.m. ET, and investors will parse them out to look for clues on when the central bank could start tapering its massive stimulus programs.2. Lowe’s and Target earnings beat estimatesA shopper departs after visiting a Lowe’s hardware store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 4, 2020.Mark Makela | ReutersA shopper leaves a Target store in New York, August 15, 2021.Scott Mlyn | CNBC3. Palantir loads up on goldAlex Karp, CEO of Palantir arrives ahead of a “Tech For Good” meetup at Hotel Marigny in Paris on May 15, 2019, held to discuss good conduct for technology giants.Bertrand Guay | AFP | Getty ImagesPalantir did something unusual for a publicly traded company: It bought gold. The data analytics software company disclosed in its latest quarterly report that it bought nearly $51 million in gold 100-ounce gold bars. The move is unusual because shareholders would normally push for a company to put its cash to work toward capital expenditures, share buybacks or even a dividend. However, the move could be reflective of a company bracing for economic uncertainty.4. Afghanistan evacuations pick up steamEvacuees crowd the interior of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, carrying some 640 Afghans to Qatar from Kabul, Afghanistan August 15, 2021.Courtesy of Defense One | Handout via ReutersEvacuations from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul picked up steam, as thousands of diplomats and aid workers have left the country along with at least several hundred Afghans. The U.K. government says it’s taking about 1,000 people out of Afghanistan every day. “We’re still bringing out British nationals … and those Afghan nationals who are part of our locally employed scheme,” U.K. Interior Minister Priti Patel told the BBC on Wednesday. Reuters reported, citing an anonymous security official, that more than 2,200 diplomats and civilian workers have been evacuated.5. TSA extends mask mandate through JanuaryTravelers wait in line at a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening checkpoint at Orlando International Airport in May, 2021.Paul Hennessy | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty ImagesThe Transportation Security Administration has extended a federal requirement for travelers to wear masks on commercial flights, buses and trains. The mandate, which was set to expire next month, is now in place through Jan. 18. “The purpose of TSA’s mask directive is to minimize the spread of COVID-19 on public transportation,” TSA said in a statement. The mandate will now cover traditionally busy travel periods, such as Thanksgiving and the December holidays. The mandate’s extension comes as Covid cases across the U.S. rise due to the highly contagious delta variant.— Follow all the market action like a pro on CNBC Pro. Get the latest on the pandemic with CNBC’s coronavirus coverage.