Stock Futures Hold Steady as Traders Digest Data

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U.S. stock-index futures fluctuated in a tight range on Thursday as traders mulled several economic reports from the U.S. and China.

Today's Markets

As of 8:41 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 7 points to 13127, S&P 500 futures dipped 1.3 points to 1397 and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 5 points to 2712.

Wall Street is sitting at the highest level since early May, having climbed for the last four sessions in a row.

Trading desks across the world started the day off with economic reports from China. Expansion in industrial production in the world's No. 2 economy slowed down to 9.2% in July from 9.5% in the same month the year before, marking the third-straight monthly easing. The increasingly gloomy data have caused worries that the economy may be in for a so-called hard landing, in which output would slowdown dramatically.

However, inflation cooled off in July, falling to 1.8% from 2.2% in June. That may give Bejing "room for further policy easing," including a potential cutting of required bank reserves, according to analysts at Nomura.

On the U.S. front, the Commerce Department reported the U.S. trade deficit fell 10.7% to $42.9 billion in June from the month before. The deficit was the narrowest since December 2010 and considerably smaller than the $47.5 billion economists expected. The difference between exports and imports, while lagging, will figure directly into broader measures of economic output.

The Labor Department said new claims for jobless benefits unexpectedly decreased by 6,000 to 361,000 last week. The prior week's figure was revised up to 367,000 from the previously-reported 365,000.

Later in the morning, traders will get a read on inventories at the wholesale level. The figures can provide a forward-looking snapshot of how businesses anticipate demand to either slow down or pick up steam.

Oil prices nudged up after snapping a three-day wining streak on Wednesday. The benchmark contract traded in New York rose 12 cents, or 0.13%, to $93.47 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline gained 0.04% to $2.982 a gallon.

In metals, gold fell $1.40, or 0.09%, to $1,615 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 fell 0.33% to 2424, the English FTSE 100 dipped 0.06% to 5842 and the German DAX declined 0.52% to 6930.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 rallied 1.1% to 8979 and the Chinese Hang Seng jumped 1% to 20269.