Stock futures gain on China optimism; data, earnings in focus


Stock index futures rose on Thursday, indicating the S&P 500 may rebound from its worst five-day slide in five months, on optimism China's economy may be recovering and ahead of a flurry of economic data and corporate earnings.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said China's factory output should grow faster in the last three months of 2012 than in the third quarter, raising hopes the world's second largest economy may avoid a hard landing to its slowdown.

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Investors will look to economic data for investment cues. On tap are September durable goods orders and weekly initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Economists in a Reuters survey expect a 7.1 percent rise in orders and a total of 370,000 new filings compared with 388,000 in the prior week.

At 10:00 a.m., pending home sales for September is due, which investors will peruse for signs of continued improvement in the housing market. Analysts surveyed by Reuters expect a 2.1 percent increase compared with a 2.6 percent drop in the previous month.

The benchmark S&P index has shed 3.6 percent over the last five sessions, its worst performance since mid-May, and is down 3.9 percent from its closing high of September 14, amid weak earnings outlooks and top-line revenue misses by large multinational companies.

"We will be looking at several pieces of macroeconomic news today, all of which will probably be marked at friendly, so the market from a technical point of view is probably nearing the end of this pullback," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in New York.

"The market has now established the fact that multinational corporations are reporting earnings that reflect the global slowdown and that is pretty much already baked in the market - a soft landing for China, another plus for equities."

Procter & Gamble Co posted a quarterly profit and maintained its key earnings forecast for the year as the world's largest household products maker cut costs and narrowed its focus on key markets, products and countries.

Procter's smaller rival Colgate-Palmolive Co reported improved quarterly profit as the toothpaste and soap maker spent a bit more on advertising to entice shoppers after raising prices.

Sprint Nextel Corp posted a wider loss in the third quarter as it spent heavily on a network upgrade and lost customers from its iDen network, which it is shutting down. Shares advanced 0.7 percent to $5.66 in premarket trading.

A total of 56 S&P 500 companies are due to report earnings on Thursday according to Thomson Reuters data, including Apple , Amazon and Eastman Chemical Co .

S&P 500 futures rose 7.9 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 60 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 17.5 points.

With results in from 186 of the S&P 500 companies, 59.1 percent have beat analysts' expectations, below the 62 percent long-term average, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Revenue figures have been more disappointing, with just 38.2 percent of companies exceeding analysts' expectations, while 61.8 percent have fallen short. In a typical quarter, 62 percent of companies beat estimates.

Aetna Inc , the third-largest U.S. health insurer, reported a higher quarterly profit that beat expectations, saying it had reached its 2012 goal of 18.2 million members ahead of schedule and kept costs down.

PSSI World Medical Inc jumped 33.2 percent to $28.77 in premarket after McKesson Corp said it would acquire the company for $29 a share, or $1.46 billion.

European shares rose after China said factory output was set to accelerate and data showed Britain's economy grew faster than expected in the third quarter.

Asian shares inched higher as signs of recovery in China and the United States eased fears of deteriorating global growth, though lackluster corporate earnings kept investors wary.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)