S&P Hovers at Critical Level, Futures Point to Higher Open

Stock futures pointed to a slightly higher open for Wall Street ahead of important U.S. growth data and jobless claims, as strategists fixated on a crucial support level for the S&P 500.

A batch of earnings from big names such as 3M Co. and Exxon Mobil Corp. are due ahead of the bell, while shares of Facebook Inc. could get a bump in premarket after market-pleasing results, and Google Inc. may gain on deal news.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 17 points to 15715, while the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.4 points to 1774.60. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 index rose 9.50 points, or 0.3% to 3,482.50.

Data on fourth-quarter U.S. gross domestic product are due at 8:30 a.m. EST, with weekly jobless claims coming at the same time. GDP is expected to rise 3.3% for the period, according to a forecast of economists at MarketWatch, with some calling for the number to come in as high as 4%.

A disappointing number could renew fears about the stability of the economic recovery. The Federal Reserve unanimously agreed to taper an extra $10 billion a month in its bond-buying program on Wednesday, and Wall Street stocks extended an earlier decline on that news, as investors have been battling emerging-market concerns.

The S&P 500 closed down 1% to 1774.20 on Wednesday, falling below the key resistance level of 1775 to its lowest close since mid-November. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.2% to 15738.79, recording its fifth triple-digit loss this month. The Nasdaq Composite lost 1.1% to close at 4051.43.

Other data for Wednesday include pending-home sales for December at 10 a.m. EST.

Watch key support of 1700 on the S&P 500, said Fawad Razaqzada, technical analyst at Forex.com, who added that the technical importance of what it does from here "cannot be overstated."

"This area marks the convergence of the previous support-and-resistance area with the 100-day moving average, a long-term bullish trend-line and the 38.2% Fibonacci retracement level of the upswing from the October low," Mr. Razaqzada said. The Fibonacci retracement level refers to the potential retracement of an asset's original move in price.

"Thus if the index closes below this 1,770 mark, then we could easily see another sharp selloff toward, and possibly beyond, the 200-day moving average, at around 1710," he said. "On the hand, it could just as easily stage another rally from here."

In addition to 3M (MMM) and Exxon Mobil (XOM), ConocoPhillips (COP) and Visa Inc. (V) are all due to report ahead of the bell.

Facebook (FB) was pointing to a strong premarket bump after its quarterly results topped the Wall Street consensus. Its shares jumped 12% in late trading on Wednesday in heavy volume.

Shares of Google (GOOG) got a late-session bump on Wednesday after the company said it will sell its Motorola Mobility phone-hardware unit to Lenovo Group Ltd.

Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM) could be another gainer, after its first-quarter earnings beat forecasts late Wednesday.

In overseas markets, European stocks were coming under light pressure on the heels of China data, which showed confirmation of a January pullback in the country's manufacturing sector. That data also hit Asian markets. Yen strength leaned on the Nikkei Stock Average, which closed off 2.5%.

The dollar continued to strengthen along with the yen as emerging-market currencies such as the Turkish lira and Russian ruble continued to see pressure. The Hungarian forint also saw pressure against the euro. Gold slipped, while crude oil prices rose and oil prices rose.