By Polya Lesova, MarketWatch
LONDON (MarketWatch) â" U.S. stock futures straddled the flat line Thursday, as investors awaited jobless-claims data and earnings reports from corporate giants Merck & Co. and Dow Chemical Co.
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average /quotes/comstock/21b!f:dj\h11 (DJH11 11,992, +7.00, +0.06%) Â gained 9 points to 11,994 and S&P 500 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:sp\h11 (SPH11 1,300, +0.30, +0.02%) Â were nearly flat at 1,300.60.
Nasdaq 100 futures /quotes/comstock/21m!f:nd\h11 (NDH11 2,318, -1.75, -0.08%) Â fell 0.75 to 2,319.
The blue-chip Dow index /quotes/comstock/10w!i:dji/delayed (DJIA 12,042, +1.81, +0.02%) Â closed nearly unchanged Wednesday, holding just above the psychologically key 12,000 level.
âThere is one important thing to establish. The Egyptian tensions do not seem to have that much of an effect on the [equity] markets,â 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.
âViolence has increased significantly over the last few days and markets havenât dropped,â Blaabjerg said. âItâs all about earnings really more than anything else.â
The economic and corporate calendar is very busy Thursday.
Data on weekly jobless claims and fourth-quarter productivity are due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. After the market opens, at 10 a.m. Eastern, the ISM report on service sector activity in January as well as factory orders for December will be released.
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On the corporate front, U.S. retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. /quotes/comstock/13*!wmt/quotes/nls/wmt (WMT 55.86, -0.47, -0.83%) are due to report same-store sales for January.
In addition, numerous companies will release earnings reports, including drug giant Merck /quotes/comstock/13*!mrk/quotes/nls/mrk (MRK 33.82, -0.18, -0.53%) , media group New York Times Co. /quotes/comstock/13*!nyt/quotes/nls/nyt (NYT 10.74, +0.38, +3.67%) , Dow Chemical /quotes/comstock/13*!dow/quotes/nls/dow (DOW 36.64, +0.28, +0.77%) Â and food firm Kellogg Co. /quotes/comstock/13*!k/quotes/nls/k (K 50.36, +0.16, +0.32%) .
The market is âwaiting for some news to pull it another leg higher,â Blaabjerg said. âIf these earnings come out [relatively strong] as we expect, and the initial jobless claims are marginally better, then you are going to see a big upswing in markets.â
ECB meeting on tap
European stock markets were mostly 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 73.43, +0.08, +0.11%) Â /quotes/comstock/23s!e:rdsa (UK:RDSA 2,201, -66.50, -2.93%) Â slumped more than 3% in London trade after its adjusted fourth-quarter profit came in below market expectations.
Later in the day, the European Central Bank is expected to leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged. Attention will then turn to ECB President Jean-Claude Trichetâs press conference.
âItâs unlikely that he will surprise markets in the way he did last month but heâs likely to confidently keep up the anti-inflation rhetoric,â Deutsche Bank said in a note.
The euro slipped 0.2% to $1.3784. The dollar index /quotes/comstock/11j!i:dxy0 (DXY 77.21, +0.05, +0.06%) , which measures the performance of the greenback against a basket of other major currencies, was little changed at 77.148.
In the commodity markets, oil futures rose 61 cents to $91.47 a barrel in electronic trading on Globex.
Gold futures were nearly flat at $1,331.70 an ounce.
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. Asia Markets.
Polya Lesova is chief of MarketWatchâs London bureau.Powered By iWebRSS.com