NEW YORK – Stock index futures pointed to a flat open on Thursday, with investors finding few reasons to buy after weak results from Wal-Mart Stores Inc and rising tensions in the Middle East.
Futures were off their highs of the session, continuing a trend of equities having difficulty holding onto gains.
Wal-Mart fell 2.9 percent to $69.25 in premarket trading after reporting third-quarter revenue that missed expectations. The company said economic conditions pressured customers' spending.
"This is troubling because it flies in the face of other retail data we've seen lately, which has been positive," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh. "There's not much out there convincing investors that things are getting any better."
Discount retailer Target Corp rose 1 percent to $62 before the bell after it reported profit that beat expectations.
Futures fell on economic data, which showed a spike in weekly jobless benefits claims, though consumer prices came in as expected with a 0.1 percent increase. The government said claims totaled 439,000 compared with expectations of 375,000 and reflected the impact of superstorm Sandy.
A regional gauge of manufacturing in New York state slowed for a fourth straight month in November but was stronger than analysts' expectations.
S&P 500 futures fell 1.8 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 25 points and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 5.75 points.
With Wednesday's drop, both the Dow and Nasdaq ended at their lowest levels since late June. The S&P 500 is down 5.1 percent in the six sessions since election night. Wednesday marked the benchmark index's lowest close since July 25.
Investors may seek bargains at these levels, and a round of stronger economic data could prove to be a catalyst, but many analysts say strong gains may be hard to come by until at least one of several global macroeconomic headwinds go away.
Overseas, Israel launched a major offensive against Palestinian militants in Gaza, killing the military commander of Hamas in an air strike and threatening an invasion of the enclave. Egypt said it recalled its ambassador from Israel in response.
"Nothing over there seems stable, and investors are concerned other countries could be pulled into the conflict. You're going to see oil jump on that threat," Forest said.
President Barack Obama Wednesday reiterated his position that marginal tax rates would have to rise to tackle U.S. deficits. Taxes on capital gains and dividends could rise as part of the negotiations, pushing investors to sell this year and pay lower taxes on their gains.
(Editing by Kenneth Barry)