Futures Pare Gains as Traders Weigh Data, European Debt

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Stock-index futures fell from the highs of the session as traders weighed a round of weaker-than-expected economic data with positive developments in European debt markets.

Today's Markets

As of 8:34 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 20 points to 12407, S&P 500 futures gained 2.5 points to 1291 and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 10 points to 2377.

Market participants will have a slew of reports and data to parse through on Thursday.

Spain sold double its target of paper maturing in 2015 and 2016 at an auction as investors began moving back into the weakened debt. The yield on the 2015 bonds fell to 3.384% from 5.187% at a similar auction in December. After the auction, Italy's borrowing costs on private markets dropped as well, falling to 6.72%, beneath the 7% mark it had been trading at earlier in the week.

Borrowing costs have been closely eyed by market participants as worries have mounted major that European countries, like Italy and Spain, will have difficulty refinancing their debt this year. In the past, smaller countries have gotten locked out of private borrowing markets, necessitating bailouts.

The European Central Bank held its main refinancing rate at 1% following two straight months of cuts. The ECB has been working to keep the European economy afloat while also keeping inflation in check. The Bank of England also said it will keep its benchmark interest rate at 0.5% and left its asset-buying program unchanged. Both moves were widely anticipated by market participants.

The euro rose 0.44% to $1.2763, while the U.S. dollar fell 0.35% against a basket of six world currencies.

On the U.S. front, retail sales rose at a pace of 0.1% in December from the month prior, weaker than the 0.3% gain economists forecast. The weakest parts of the report were non-store retailers, electronics stores and general merchandise stores, which were somewhat offset by substantial gains in auto and building material sales.

New claims for unemployment benefits rose to 399,000 last week from an upwardly revised 375,000 the week prior. Economists were expecting a smaller rise to 375,000 from an initially reported 372,000. Last week, the monthly employment report showed the unemployment rate falling to 8.5% as the economy added 200,000 jobs in December as the labor market has slowly improved following steep job losses during the recession.

Commodities were to the upside, helped by strength in equities and a weaker U.S. dollar. The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York jumped $1.21, or 1.2%, to $102.09 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline gained 0.95% to $2.79 a gallon.

In metals, gold climbed $16.90, or 1%, to $1,656 a troy ounce. U.S. Treasury prices fell, pushing yields higher. The benchmark 10-year note yields 1.925% from 1.911%.

Corporate News

Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD) shares plummeted after The Wall Street Journal reported CIT Group will not finance loans to supplies awaiting payments from the retailer.

Target (NYSE:TGT) unveiled a new $5 billion share buyback authorization that will kick in once its current $10 billion program ends in early 2012. The company also said it plans on boosting its annual dividend to $3 or more by 2017.

Royal Bank of Scotland (NYSE:RBS) plans on shedding roughly 3,500 jobs over the next three years as it works through a new regulator and market conditions.

Foreign Markets 

European blue chips rallied 1.9% to 2,383, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.48% to 5,698 and the German DAX jumped 1.6% to 6,252.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 dipped 0.74% to 8,386 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.3% to 19,095.