Futures Edge Up After Steep Retreat


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U.S. stock-index futures drifted to the upside Thursday on the heels of a rout that knocked the major market averages back to early August levels. A round of stronger-than-expected economic data and headlines from Europe were in focus.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:40 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 34 points to 12898, S&P 500 futures gained 3.3 points to 1392 and Nasdaq 100 futures advanced 7.3 points to 2618.

The S&P 500, considered one of the best barometers of U.S. equities, tumbled 2.4% on Wednesday in its worst day on a percent basis since June. The broad-market index is down less than 2% for the month, but is still up nearly 11% for the year.

The focus on Washington, D.C. that has consumed trading desks in the past couple sessions eased somewhat Thursday, with data and European news coming back into the spotlight.

On the economic docket, a report from the Commerce Department unexpectedly showed the U.S. trade deficit hitting its narrowest level since December 2010 in September. The deficit fell to $41.6 billion for the month from $43.8 billion in August. Economists expected a reading of $45 billion. While the gauge that measures the difference between exports and imports is a lagging indicator, it does figure directly into broader measures of economic output.

Another report from the Labor Department showed new claims for unemployment benefits falling to 355,000 last week from 363,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to rise to 370,000. A Labor Department analyst says superstorm Sandy depressed claims in at least one state and resulted in an increase in claims in others, according to a report by Reuters. The stubbornly-slow recovery for the labor market has been a major focus among economists in recent months.

On the European front, Greece's parliament approved a fresh round of austerity measures by a margin of 153 to 147. The move is important because it likely clears the way for the country to receive more rescue aid from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which will allow it to stave off a debt default.

The Bank of England held its benchmark interest rate at 0.5% and the size of its quantitative easing program at 375 billion pounds, as expected. The European Central Bank left its main refinancing rate at 0.75% as expected. ECB President Mario Draghi is set to hold a news conference later in the day.

In corporate news, J.P. Morgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) said in a regulatory filing that it has reached an "agreement in principle" with the Securities and Exchange Commission on a probe related to mortgage backed securitizations by two of its units. The biggest U.S. bank by assets also said the Federal Reserve approved a $3 billion share buyback program for the first quarter of 2013.

In commodities, oil prices bounced back after sustaining the worst selloff in close to a year. The benchmark contract traded in New York jumped $1.07, or 1.3%, to $85.47 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rallied 1.1% to $2.618 a gallon.

In metals, gold gained $5.40, or 0.32%, to $1,720 a troy once.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 gained 0.88% to 2501, the English FTSE 100 rose 0.33% to 5811 and the German DAX advanced 0.51% to 7269.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 sold off 1.5% to 8837 and the Chinese Hang Seng plunged 2.4% to 21567.