Stock Futures Push Higher; EU Summit, Data Eyed

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Stock-index futures climbed on Friday, suggesting Wall Street may kick off the last day of what has been a blockbuster first quarter on a high note as traders watch developments from Europe and await several important data releases.

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Today's Markets

As of 8:32 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures jumped 42 points to13120, S&P 500 futures gained 5 points to 1403 and Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 9.3 points to 2768.

The S&P 500 has soared nearly 12% during the first quarter, which is set to be the best for the broad-market average on a percent basis since 1999. The tech-heavy Nasdaq has surged more than 18% in its best start to a year since 1991.

A stream of strong data on the U.S. economy has played a major role in the rally, although several key reports this week came in beneath Wall Street's optimistic expectations. There are several reports on tap for Friday that may shed more light on how the economy is faring.

The markets have also been helped by a calming of fears over the European debt crisis that had roiled the markets during the summer of 2011. Indeed, sovereign debt yields have fallen significantly in countries like Spain and Italy, and Europe's financial system has gotten a boost from cheap loans by the European Central Bank. Still, some analysts wonder what will happen when global central banks and big players like Germany begin to ease off of their pro-growth policies.

"Investors can look back on the past three months with a degree of satisfaction, after the impressive run higher for markets," Chris Beauchamp, a market analyst at London's IG Index wrote in an e-mail. "However, the future looks less assured."

On that front, eurozone finance ministers agreed on Friday to temporarily boost the firepower of the 17-member currency bloc's rescue funds. The so-called firewall that is designed to help mitigate the effects of the debt crisis in Greece and other areas in the periphery will now hit nearly $1.1 trillion in total.

U.S. consumer spending increased by 0.8% in February from January, quicker than the 0.6% economists expected, and the biggest increase since July. Meanwhile, personal income edged higher by 0.2%, which was weaker than the 0.4% economists forecast. A separate report due out later in the morning is expected to show consumer sentiment edging up slightly in the latter part of March.

A key question among analysts has been how a sudden lurch higher in gasoline prices at the pump is affecting consumers' spending habits. A gallon of regular at the pump costs $3.93 on average nationwide, which is 32 cents more than drivers paid last year, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report.

Another report slated for release at 9:45 a.m. ET is expected to show manufacturing in the Midwest region expanded at a slower pace in March than it had in the previous month. These data from the Institute for Supply Management come ahead of the more closely followed national report.

In commodities, oil has had a rocky week, shedding 4.2% over the past two sessions to close at its lowest level since mid-February. Crude rebounded 53 cents, or 0.52%, to $103.31 a barrel in New York trading. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline jumped 0.69% to $3.424 a gallon.

Gold climbed $14.40, or 0.86%, to $1,669 a troy ounce. The yield on the 10-year Treasury rose 0.001-percentage point to 2.163%.

Foreign Markets

European blue chips jumped 1.1%, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.66% to 5780 and the German DAX rallied 1.1% to 6953.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 fell 0.31% to 10084 and the Chinese Hang Seng dipped 0.26% to 20556.

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