MarketWatch.com - Pre-Market Indications

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Indications: U.S. futures slip after data, earnings

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By Polya Lesova and Kate Gibson, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) â€" U.S. stock futures retained modest losses Thursday after jobless-claims data and earnings reports from corporate giants including Merck & Co. and Dow Chemical Co.

The Labor Department said initial jobless claims fell to 415,000 last week, fewer than expected. The prior week’s count was revised higher to 457,000. Read more about jobless claims.

“With this data not telling us anything new with respect to firings, we’ll wait until tomorrow’s January payroll figure to get new information on net hirings,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak.

The government also said U.S. business productivity climbed a seasonally adjusted 2.6% in the fourth quarter, compared with expectations of a 2.2% increase projected by analysts polled by MarketWatch.

Down about 20 points before the data, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/21b!f:dj\h11 (DJH11 12,012, 0.00, 0.00%)  lately fell 15 points to 11,970, and S&P 500 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:sp\h11 (SPH11 1,303, -0.10, -0.01%)  edged down 2.7 points to 1,297.3.

Nasdaq 100 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:nd\h11 (NDH11 2,322, +2.00, +0.09%)  declined 6 points to 2,313.75.

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On Wednesday, the blue-chip Dow index /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 12,062, +20.29, +0.17%)  closed nearly unchanged, holding just above the psychologically key 12,000 level.

“There is one important thing to establish. The Egyptian tensions do not seem to have that much of an effect on the [equity] markets,” said Christian Tegllund Blaabjerg, chief equity strategist at Saxo Bank.

The situation in Egypt deteriorated further Thursday, with violence escalating on the streets of Cairo between supporters and opponents of President Hosni Mubarak.

“Violence has increased significantly over the last few days, and markets haven’t dropped,” Blaabjerg said. “It’s all about earnings really more than anything else.”

At 10 a.m. Eastern, the ISM report on January service-sector activity as well as data on December factory orders will be released.

Sugar hits 30-year high

Michael Casey explains what caused sugar prices to skyrocket to a 30-year high Wednesday.

On the corporate front, U.S. retailers are reporting same-store sales for January.

Drug giant Merck /quotes/comstock/13*!mrk/quotes/nls/mrk (MRK 32.90, -0.92, -2.72%) said it swung to a fourth-quarter loss from a profit in the year-ago period, while sales rose.

Shares of Dow Chemical /quotes/comstock/13*!dow/quotes/nls/dow (DOW 36.74, +0.10, +0.27%)   rose in premarket trade after the company reported a surge in quarterly profit.

ECB holds steady

European stock markets were lower following a string of earnings reports. Shares of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell PLC /quotes/comstock/13*!rds.a/quotes/nls/rds.a (RDS.A 71.25, -2.18, -2.97%)   /quotes/comstock/23s!e:rdsa (UK:RDSA 2,200, -67.50, -2.98%)  slumped more than 3% in London trade after the company’s adjusted fourth-quarter profit came in below market expectations.

The Stoxx Europe 600 index /quotes/comstock/22c!sxxp (ST:STOXX600 285.00, +0.41, +0.14%)  edged down 0.3% in intraday trading. See Europe Markets.

Asian markets were mixed overnight, with Japanese stocks posting losses. Numerous markets in the region, including those in China and Hong Kong, were closed for the Lunar New Year holidays. Read Asia Markets.

Also Thursday, the European Central Bank left its key lending rate unchanged at a record low 1%. ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said the rise in January inflation to an annual rate of 2.4% from 2.2% in December was broadly anticipated, with price pressures reflecting rising costs for energy and commodities.

Trichet, in his monthly news conference in Frankfurt, said price developments warranted close monitoring but said the developments haven’t changed the ECB’s expectations for inflation to remain in line with price stability. Read more about the ECB.

The euro extended a loss versus the dollar to trade at $1.3698, down 0.8% from Wednesday.

Polya Lesova is chief of MarketWatch’s London bureau. Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.

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