Wall Street to open flat after data, eyes on "cliff"


Wall Street was set to open little changed as investors digested the latest round of economic data, while concerns about a lack of progress by politicians in ongoing fiscal negotiations remained at the forefront.

S&P 500 index futures gave up earlier gains shortly after data showed consumer prices fell in November for the first time in six months, indicating inflation pressures were muted. Separate data showed manufacturing grew at its swiftest pace in eight months in December.

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The consumer price data "shows that despite all the action by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy, we are still seeing very little, if any, inflation in the system," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer of Solaris Group in Bedford Hills, New York.

Meanwhile, data out of China was encouraging for its key trading partners, including the U.S., and for the prospects for world economic growth. It showed manufacturing in the world's second-largest economy grew at its fastest pace in 14 months in December.

Shares of Apple were down 2.4 percent at $516.80 in premarket trading as UBS cut its price target to $700 from $780. Apple will also release its iPhone 5 in China on Friday but its longer-term hopes may depend on new technology being tested by China's top telecoms carrier.

President Barack Obama and House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner held a "frank" meeting Thursday to try to break an impasse in negotiations over the "fiscal cliff," tax hikes and spending cuts set to kick in early in 2013.

Frustration has mounted over the lack of progress in the discussions, with market participants' worries reflected in a 0.6 percent drop in the S&P 500 on Thursday. Investors are concerned that going over the cliff could tip the economy back into recession. While a deal is expected to be reached eventually, a drawn-out debate - like the one seen over 2011's debt ceiling - can erode confidence.

"I think the market is convinced, due to the fact that we haven't seen much of a pullback, that some (fiscal) compromise will happen before the end of the year," said Art Hogan, managing director of Lazard Capital Markets in New York.

"The bad news is, in large part, we've seen the market ignore relatively good news in the economic data stream as we focus on the fiscal cliff," he said.

Worries over the outcome of the talks ended the S&P 500's six-day winning streak on Thursday, but the index has performed well over the past month. On Wednesday, the S&P hit its highest intraday level since late October.

S&P 500 futures rose 0.7 point but were below 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 23 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures fell 9 points.

Schlumberger fell 3.6 percent to $69.93 after it said lower drilling activity would hurt its fourth-quarter earnings.

Adobe Systems jumped 5.2 percent to $37.36 in premarket trading after the company said it expected profit and earnings to grow from 2013 onwards.

(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Bernadette Baum)