MarketWatch.com - Pre-Market Indications

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Indications: U.S. futures steady before weekly jobless claims

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By Steve Goldstein, MarketWatch

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- The lull in markets continued on Thursday in the run-up to the monthly jobs report as U.S. stock futures clung to a tight range, though data on jobless claims and retail sales reports could spark activity.

S&P 500 futures rose six-tenths of a point to 1,119.20 while Nasdaq 100 futures fell a half point to 1,851.50. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 9 points.

U.S. stocks ended slightly lower Wednesday after a late-day drop, as Pfizer reported disappointing results on an Alzheimer's drug and health stocks slipped on President Obama's new call for federal healthcare legislation.

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Weekly jobless claims, a day ahead of the February nonfarm payrolls report, will attract attention. Also out Thursday is data on factory orders and pending home sales for January and a final reading of fourth-quarter productivity.

Retailers were announcing same-store sales, and Pier 1 Imports /quotes/comstock/13*!pir/quotes/nls/pir (PIR 6.83, +0.19, +2.86%) and Urban Outfitters /quotes/comstock/15*!urbn/quotes/nls/urbn (URBN 33.40, +0.29, +0.88%) also reported fourth-quarter earnings ahead of estimates.

The Bank of England and European Central Bank each held interest rates unchanged at historically low levels, as expected.

The ECB's press conference at 8:30 a.m. Eastern will draw attention as to what it will say about Greece as the heavily indebted country began marketing a 10-year bond.

As earnings season winds down, Ciena /quotes/comstock/15*!cien/quotes/nls/cien (CIEN 14.55, -0.21, -1.42%) shares dropped 12% as it reported a widening loss and issued a cautious second-quarter target.

Anheuser-Busch InBev /quotes/comstock/13*!bud/quotes/nls/bud (BUD 51.40, +0.54, +1.06%) fell in Brussels after reporting a smaller-than-forecast rise in adjusted profit and offering cautious 2010 guidance.

Asian shares ended mostly lower Thursday, with Chinese banking and property shares losing ground a day before the mainland's annual National People's Congress amid concerns about policy tightening.

Europe stocks sagged after four winning sessions in a row.

Oil futures were weaker but held above the $80-a-barrel market, while gold futures slipped $3.90 an ounce.

The dollar index /quotes/comstock/11j!i:dxy0 (DXY 80.09, +0.12, +0.15%) was slightly higher.

Steve Goldstein is MarketWatch's London bureau chief.


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