MARKET SNAPSHOT: U.S. Stocks Poised To Open Lower, On Track For Weekly Decline

By Barbara Kollmeyer, MarketWatch , Ryan Vlastelica Features Dow Jones Newswires

J.C. Penney earnings due ahead of the bell

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U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a slightly lower open on Friday, setting major indexes up for a weekly decline as investors react to an uncertain political environment stemming from President Donald Trump's firing--and subsequent apparent threatening of--former FBI Director James Comey.

The latest economic data also pointed to an uncertain environment, as both retail sales and consumer prices rose in the latest month, albeit by a slower pace than had been expected.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures slipped 18 points to 20,852, while S&P 500 futures dipped 3.85 points, or 0.2%, to 2,387.25 and Nasdaq-100 futures eased 2.75 points, or 0.1%, to 5,668.

The dominant story over the past few days has been the recent firing of Comey. While this is seen as having little direct impact on corporate profits or stock prices, prolonged uncertainty on this front could be a catalyst for greater investor anxiety and market declines. Friday morning, Trump tweeted that Comey should hope there are no "tapes" (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/trump-says-comey-should-hope-there-are-no-tapes-and-threatens-to-cancel-press-briefings-2017-05-12) of conversations between he and Trump, a statement he didn't elaborate on.

"Who the FBI director is won't have an impact on markets, but it is part of a bigger puzzle. There's a lot of political messiness, and that certainly leads to uncertainty and confusion in the market, and it suggests that, to me, we should have much higher volatility than we currently have. There's a tremendous amount of global uncertainty," said Jonathan Angrist, chief investment officer of Cognios Capital.

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U.S. stocks finished with losses on Thursday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/nasdaqs-record-run-on-the-line-as-snap-tumbles-after-results-2017-05-11), though well off session lows, led by declines for retail shares. Investors also grappled with the Comey firing which, among other things, suggested it might be even harder for Trump to push his economic agenda through congress, something experts say is necessary to justify the market's postelection rally.

The Nasdaq Composite Index closed down 0.2% at 6,115.96 on Thursday, while the S&P 500 dipped 0.2% to 2,3944.44. Down as much as 145 points earlier, the DJIA finished 23.69 points lower at 20,919.42.

Read:Retail stocks rocked as Macy's casts pall on sector (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/retail-stocks-rocked-as-macys-casts-pall-on-sector-2017-05-11)

For the week so far, the Dow is looking at 0.4% drop and the S&P 500 at a 0.2% decline, each set to break a three-week string of weekly wins. The Nasdaq Composite is poised for a gain of 0.2%. That would mark the index's fourth-straight weekly rise, albeit the smallest in the streak.

Major U.S. indexes continue to trade near record levels, and the CBOE Volatility index , a proxy for investor anxiety, has been trading near multidecade lows. Earlier this week, it closed at its lowest level in more than 23 years (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/is-this-the-day-wall-streets-fear-gauge-hits-rock-bottom-2017-05-08).

"No one really knows what it means to have such a low VIX at a time of such high uncertainty, rising rates, high valuations, and corporate profits that aren't particularly strong," said Angrist. "It is very unusual."

Economic docket: Retail sales rose 0.4% in April (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/retail-sales-strengthen-in-april-brightening-economic-outlook-2017-05-12), according to the Commerce Department, below the 0.5% increase that had been forecast. Separately, consumer prices rose 0.2% (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-consumer-prices-rebound-in-april-2017-05-12) while core CPI was up 0.1%, a slighter increase than expected.

Read:Whew--the U.S. economy really isn't slowing (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/whew-us-economy-really-isnt-slowing-2017-05-07)

At 10 a.m. Eastern, the University of Michigan consumer-sentiment survey for May is due, as is a reading on business inventories in March.

As for Fed speakers, Chicago Fed President Charles Evans will appear on a panel on economy and interest rates at the ACI financial markets conference in Dublin, Ireland at 9 a.m. Eastern. Then Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker is due to speak on the economic outlook at Drexel University in Philadelphia at 12:30 p.m. Eastern.

Stock movers: Shares of J.C. Penney Co.'s(JCP) slumped 3.6% ahead of the bell after the department-store chain reported a larger-than-expected fall in same-store sales.

Read:J.C. Penney options traders prep for an unusually wild ride after earnings report (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jc-penney-options-traders-prep-for-an-unusually-wild-ride-after-earnings-report-2017-05-11)

(http://www.marketwatch.com/story/jc-penney-options-traders-prep-for-an-unusually-wild-ride-after-earnings-report-2017-05-11)Tidewater Inc.(TDW) sank 47% premarket after the oil services company said it expects to file for bankruptcy by May 17 (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tidewaters-stock-plunges-after-announcing-bankruptcy-plan-2017-05-12).

U.S.-listed shares of AstraZeneca PLC (AZN.LN) jumped 6% as the drugmaker posted positive, late-stage study results (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/astrazeneca-plans-imfinzi-submission-after-trial-2017-05-12) for cancer treatment Imfinzi.

In the same vein, Eli Lilly & Co. (LLY) picked up 1.6% before the open after saying a late-stage study of a migraine treatment met its primary goals (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/eli-lilly-reports-positive-results-in-trial-of-migraine-treatment-2017-05-12-791034).

Other markets: U.S. oil prices inched higher in choppy trade on Friday, heading for a gain of more than 3% for the week. Investors remain hopeful that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries will extend a production-cut deal when it meets on May 25.

Read:Here's why OPEC might just let the deal on oil output collapse (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-why-opec-might-just-let-the-deal-on-oil-output-cuts-collapse-2017-05-11)

And see: U.S. oil prices will skyrocket if border tax comes in, says Goldman's Currie (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-oil-would-surge-if-border-adjusted-tax-enacted-says-goldmans-currie-2017-05-10)

Asian stocks were mixed (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/asian-markets-pull-back-after-weak-earnings-in-us-2017-05-11), as some indexes retreated in step with U.S. stock losses, but Chinese equities gained. European stocks moved modestly higher (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-log-small-gains-as-vivendi-rallies-but-cartiers-parent-a-drag-2017-05-12).

Gold prices rose $5, or 0.4%, to $1,229.20 an ounce, while the dollar held steady.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 12, 2017 09:18 ET (13:18 GMT)