U.S. Stock Futures Point to a Lower Open

U.S. stock futures pointed to a lower start on Wall Street on Thursday as investors waited for retail-sales data, expected to show that cold weather kept shoppers at home in January. Time Warmer Cable Inc. shares surged ahead of the open, after news that Comcast Corp. has agreed to buy the rival cable operator.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 62 points, or 0.4%, to 15,881, while those for the S&P 500 index dropped 7.60 points, or 0.4%, to 1,809.50. Futures for the Nasdaq 100 index slid 14.75 points, or 0.4%, to 3,609.50.

The losses followed a downbeat session Wednesday, when the S&P 500 index fell slightly after its biggest four-day surge in a year.

Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen was scheduled make an appearance Thursday, but late Wednesday, the Senate Banking Committee postponed a hearing with the new Fed chief due to an impending storm. The testimony would have been her second this week, after a six-hour hearing with the House Financial Services panel Tuesday. A new date for the committee hearing has not been set.

That means investors are likely to focus Thursday on U.S. retail-sales data. The report for January, out at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, is expected to show that shoppers kept indoors as cold weather hit, with a 0.1% decline in sales forecast by economists.

Also at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, the U.S. Labor Department will issue jobless-claims figures for the first week of February. The reading is expected to fall slightly, to 330,000 from 331,000 in the prior week. Initial claims, a proxy for layoffs, have averaged 335,000 over the past six months and remain near a post-recession low.

The government will issue business inventories for December at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, with a 0.4% gain expected.

Among corporates, Time Warner Cable was one of the biggest premarket movers. The cable company climbed 15% ahead of the open, on news that Comcast will buy TWC for $45.2 billion in stock, in a deal that would combine the U.S.'s two biggest cable operators. Comcast shares were down 0.9% premarket.

Cisco Systems Inc. fell 3.7% premarket, after the networking-equipment firm late Wednesday said its fiscal second-quarter profit dropped to $1.43 billion, or 27 cents a share, from $3.14 billion, or 59 cents a share, a year ago. On an adjusted basis, profit slipped to 47 cents from 51 cents, while revenue fell almost 8% to $11.2 billion.

Also late Wednesday, Whole Foods Market Inc. said its fiscal first-quarter earnings rose to $158 million, or 42 cents a share, from $146 million, or 39 cents a share, a year earlier. However, the high-end supermarket chain lowered its fiscal 2014 earnings-per-share outlook, sending the shares down 8.5% premarket in Thursday trade.

On the earnings calendar Thursday, PepsiCo.Inc. is projected to report fourth-quarter earnings of $1 a share, according to a consensus survey by FactSet.

American International Group Inc. is forecast to post earnings of 96 cents a share in the fourth quarter.

Kraft Foods is expected to post earnings of 61 cents a share in the fourth quarter, while Avon Products Inc. is likely to post fourth-quarter earnings of 30 cents a share.

In other financial markets, the mood was mostly downbeat. The dollar declined, oil prices were lower and most metals prices dropped. European stock markets traded lower and Asian bourses closed in negative territory.