Stock Futures Cut Losses on Data


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Stock-index futures shed losses as traders parsed through a slew of data on the U.S. economy, but remained cautious over new setbacks on the Greek debt situation.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:44 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 3 points to 12766, S&P 500 futures slipped 1.5 points to 1341 and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 1.5 points to 2560.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell to 348,000 last week -- the lowest level since early March 2008 -- from an upwardly revised 361,000 the week prior. Economists had expected claims to rise to 365,000 from an initial reading of 358,000. The four-week moving average, which is seen as a less volatile reading, fell to its lowest level since April 2008.

The labor market has been showing significant signs of improvement recently. Indeed, the unemployment rate fell to 8.3%, its lowest level since February 2009 in January.

Housing starts rose 1.5% in January to a 699,0000-unit rate, topping estimates of a 675,000-unit rate. Permits to build new homes rose 0.7% to a 676,000-unit rate, slightly less than the 680,000-unit rate expected.

The Producer Price Index climbed 0.1% in January from December, a smaller rise than the 0.4% economists expected. Excluding the food and energy components, prices rose 0.4%, quicker than the 0.2% forecast.

Later, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve will release its closely-followed gauge of manufacturing activity in the mid-Atlantic region. Analysts expect activity to have picked up steam in early February from January.

Market participants are still closely eyeing developments out of Europe. European Union officials once again pushed back their decision on Greece's $169 billion bailout until Monday at the earliest. The embattled country has a debt payment coming up on March 20, which it won't be able to make without the first tranche of rescue aid. A default of Greek debt, analysts have said, could imperil financial markets across the continent.

Eurozone blue chips sold off by 1.2% as tracked by the Euro Stoxx 50 index. Meanwhile, the euro fell by 0.49% to $1.3002, notching a fresh three-week low. The dollar was up 0.34% against a basket of six world currencies as tracked by the dollar index.

Also weighing on sentiment was a warning from Moody's Investor Service that it may slice the credit rating of 17 global financial institutions.

"Capital markets firms are confronting evolving challenges, such as more fragile funding conditions, wider credit spreads, increased regulatory burdens and more difficult operating conditions," Moody’s said in a statement.

Among them, Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS), UBS (NYSE:UBS) and Credit Suisse (NYSE:CS) may see their ratings chopped down by three notches. Other major firms like JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM), Bank of America (NYSE:BA), Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS) could be affected as well, Moody's said.

Also on the corporate front, General Motors (NYSE:GM) posted a fourth-quarter profit of 39 cents a share, excluding items, on sales of $38 billion. Analysts expected the automaker to earn 41 cents on $38.21 billion.

Commodities markets were mixed, cutting down earlier losses.

The benchmark crude oil contract traded in New York fell 53 cents, or 0.52%, to $101.61 a barrel. Wholesale RBOB gasoline climbed 0.25% to $3.02 a gallon.

Gold slumped $11.60, or 0.68%, to $1,716 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

Eurozone blue chips slid 1.2%, the English FTSE 100 dropped 0.76% to 5,847 and the German DAX sold off by 1.2% to 6,680.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 edged lower by 0.24% to 9,238 and the Chinese Hang Seng fell 0.41% to 21,277.

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