Futures Little Changed; Traders Weigh Fed Hopes, Growth Worries

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U.S. stock-index futures traded in a tight range on Thursday as traders balanced hopes that the Fed will unleash more stimulus measures with worries about the global economy.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:34 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell 12 points to 13144, S&P 500 futures dipped 2.3 points to 1410 and Nasdaq 100 futures slipped 4.3 points to 2777.

Minutes released Thursday from the Federal Reserve's last policy-setting meeting showed members of the FOMC actively considering taking new stimulus measures to boost the sagging U.S. economy. Among the items considered were a large-scale asset purchase program, which could equate to QE3, or extending the central bank's low-rate pledge.

"If there was any doubt about how close the FOMC is to easing, the minutes to the most recent meeting should dispel those concerns," Dan Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG wrote in an e-mail following the minutes.

Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector in China contracted at the swiftest pace in nine months, according to a report from HSBC. New export business, which is a gauge of external demand, declined the most since March 2009 in yet another sign that even the world's second-biggest economy isn't immune to waning global demand.

"Chinese producers are still struggling with strong global headwinds," Hongbin Qu, the bank's chief economist for China said in the report.

"To achieve the stated policy goal of stabilizing growth and the jobs market, Beijing must step up policy easing to lift infrastructure investment in the coming months."

The manufacturing sector in the eurozone shrank for the seventh month in a row in August, but at a slower pace than the month before. The bloc has struggled as the debt crisis has cascaded from periphery nations into core ones like Spain and Italy.

On the U.S. front, new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to 372,000 from an upwardly revised 368,000 the week prior, the Labor Department said. Claims were expected to fall to 365,000 from an initially reported 366,000.

At 9:00 a.m. ET, Wall Street will get a fresh read on how the U.S. manufacturing sector fared in August. A report due later in the morning is forecast to show sales of new, single-family homes having hit 365,000 in July from 350,000 the month prior.

Oil futures climbed modestly. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York gained 57 cents, or 0.58%, to $97.81 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline rallied 1.1% to $3.139 a gallon.

In metals, gold jumped $21.10, or 1.3%, to $1,662 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 edged higher by 0.02% to 2453, the English FTSE 100 climbed 0.29% to 5791 and the German DAX gained 0.12% to 7026.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 advanced 0.51% to 9178 and the Chinese Hang Seng jumped 1.2% to 20132.

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