Futures Lower Ahead of Data, Earnings

By Barbara KollmeyerDow Jones Newswires

Disappointing manufacturing data out of China was weighing on stock futures early Thursday even as jobless claims and home-sales numbers due later out of the U.S. were expected to point to an improving economy.

More signs on how the economy is doing could come from McDonald's Corp. earnings, due ahead of the bell. Technology stocks could grab the spotlight, with Netflix Inc. and eBay Inc. looking at a boost in premarket after results released late Wednesday and a long-awaited deal for International Business Machine Corp.

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Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 57 points, or 0.4%, to 16260, while those for the S&P 500 dropped 5.3 points, or 0.3%, to 1833.30. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 were flat.

Ahead of a big batch of data, McDonald's (MCD) is expected to report fourth-quarter earnings of $1.39 a share, according to a consensus survey by FactSet. Starbucks Corp. (SBUX) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) will report after the market closes.

Economic data gears up after a respite of a few days. Initial jobless claims will be released at 8:30 a.m. EST, and economists expect they will rise slightly from 326,000 in the prior week. It will also show the expiration of extended federal benefits for around 1.3 million Americans who were collecting at the end of December.

As for the housing sector, RealtyTrac announced U.S. residential-property sales jumped 10% in December from the prior year, while median sales prices also rose. At 9 a.m. EST, the Federal Housing Finance Agency will issue its November price index, which is expected to confirm a rise in home prices.

Existing home sales are forecast to hold steady in December at a 4.9 million annual rate, according to economists polled by MarketWatch. The report will be issued at 10 a.m. Eastern Time.

Other data includes the Markit "flash" January purchasing managers index, due at 9 a.m. EST. It showed a a healthy 55.0 in December and is likely to remain near that level, say economists. Leading economic indicators will be released at 10 a.m. EST.

Investors will be hard-pressed to ignore a batch of global data, part of which was leaning on stock futures. China's manufacturing sector registered a surprise contraction in January, which knocked 1.5% off the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index. The news weighed on European stocks to an extent, though upbeat PMI numbers from the euro zone provided some support, but weighed on the dollar.

Markets were surprised by the "drop into the contraction zone--some are now fearing that 10-year economic revamp to gear the country to one based on domestic consumption rather than one reliant on debt and infrastructure spending, may take longer to bear fruit," said Ishaq Siddiqi, market strategist at ETX Capital, in a note.

He noted that emerging-market currencies have been crushed by the Chinese news, with the Turkish lira dropping to a new low against the dollar as that region and Asia in general are closely tied to China's fortunes. Speculation that the Federal Reserve will announce more tapering at its next meeting has also weighed on the region.

Within more corporate news, shares of Netflix (NFLX) could get another bump higher after an 18% late-session gain after the online-video streaming company reported fourth-quarter results that topped Wall Street expectations, with strong gains in new U.S. subscribers.

EBay Inc. (EBAY) posted a 13% sales gain, due in part to a 19% rise at its PayPal unit. Its shares jumped 7.5% in after-hours trading. The online marketplace also said Carl Icahn, who holds a 0.8% interest in eBay, is pushing for it to spin off its payments arm PayPal into a separate company.

Shares of IBM (IBM) could be active after Lenovo Group Ltd. announced a $2.3 billion cash-and-stock deal for the company's low-end server business. IBM was a drag for the Dow industrials on Wednesday after disappointing results, though markets overall managed a mostly higher close.