MarketWatch.com - Pre-Market Indications

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Indications: Futures point to steady start for Wall Street

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By William L. Watts, MarketWatch

LONDON (MarketWatch) â€" U.S. stock futures pointed to a steady start for Wall Street on Thursday as investors awaited a slew of economic data ahead of the final trading session before Christmas.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/21b!f:dj\h11 (DJH11 11,489, -6.00, -0.05%)  added 3 points to 11,498, and S&P 500 index futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:sp\h11 (SPH11 1,253, -2.00, -0.16%)  fell 0.5 point to 1,254.

Nasdaq 100 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:nd\h11 (NDH11 2,230, -5.75, -0.26%)  edged 3.25 points lower to 2,232.75.

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Markets are in a state of “general drift at the moment,” said Michael Hewson, strategist at CMC Markets. “There are no negative factors weighing on sentiment.”

The only potential risks would stem from any renewed tensions between North Korea and South Korea or from a Chinese rate hike, he said.

On Wednesday, U.S. stocks finished at their highest level in two years. The blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 11,559, +26.33, +0.23%)  ended 0.2% higher at 11,559.49, its highest close since Aug. 28, 2008.

The S&P 500 index /quotes/comstock/21z!i1:in\x (SPX 1,259, +4.24, +0.34%)  rose 0.3% Wednesday to 1,258.84, its highest close since September 2008, while the Nasdaq Composite index /quotes/comstock/10y!i:comp (COMP 2,671, +3.87, +0.15%)  advanced 0.2% to end at 2,671.48.

Economic figures on tap for Thursday include durable-goods orders for November, as well as November consumer-spending figures and weekly jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

University of Michigan consumer-sentiment data for December are set for release at 9:55 a.m. Eastern, while November new-home sales figures are due out at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Although durable-goods data are notoriously volatile, they offer clues to business investment in machinery. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expect orders to post a 0.5% decline after a sharp 3.4% drop in October. Excluding transportation equipment, orders are expected to show a partial rebound after a 4.3% October decline.

Hewson said consumer-sentiment data are likely to be the main focus for equity investors. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch forecast the index to rise to 74.5 from a previous reading of 74.2.

In corporate news, retailer Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. /quotes/comstock/15*!bbby/quotes/nls/bbby (BBBY 47.67, +0.12, +0.25%)  late Wednesday reported a fiscal third-quarter profit of $188.6 million, or 74 cents a share, up from $151.3 million, or 58 cents a share, in the year-earlier period. Sales rose 11.1% to $2.19 billion, and the company said its board authorized a new $2 billion share-repurchase program.

European stocks gained ground in thin trade, with the Stoxx Europe 600 /quotes/comstock/22c!sxxp (ST:STOXX600 281.46, +0.01, +0.00%)  index rising 0.1%. Read about Europe Markets.

The dollar was slightly lower versus most major rivals. It changed hands at 83.01 yen /quotes/comstock/21o!x:susdjpy (USDYEN 83.0400, -0.5100, -0.6104%)  versus the Japanese currency, a loss of 0.7%. The euro /quotes/comstock/21o!x:seurusd (EURUSD 1.3067, -0.0030, -0.2291%)  slipped 0.1% against the dollar to trade at $1.3092.

Nymex oil futures rose 5 cents to $90.53 a barrel in electronic trade, while gold futures fell $4.60 to trade at $1,382.80 an ounce.

William L. Watts is a reporter for MarketWatch in London.

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