Wall Street's Gloomy Mood Persists as Futures Fall

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U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a lower open after the steepest selloff since November as commodities remained under pressure and traders mulled mixed economic data.

Today's Markets

As of 8:36 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell 16 points to 13873, S&P 500 futures dipped 2.3 points to 1505 and Nasdaq 100 futures slumped 8.3 points to 2729.

Wall Street's largely smooth New Year's rally came to a screeching halt Wednesday, with the S&P 500 taking its biggest thrashing in months. The VIX, which tracks implied volatility, also surged slightly above its 50-day moving average in a sign of how sudden the selloff was.

Comments in the latest round of Federal Reserve minutes suggesting the central bank may taper asset purchases sooner than expected, coupled with heavy selling in the commodities complex, sparked the move lower. The momentum carried into Thursday, with shares in Asia and Europe getting hit hard.

Energy futures were down sharply, after oil took its worst slide since November on Wednesday. Several traders chalked up the swift move lower to chatter that a large commodities fund was unwinding positions. Those reports couldn't be confirmed, however, Olivier Jakob, managing director at Petromatrix in Switzerland, notes "we need to keep in mind that hedge funds do not necessarily need to be 'in trouble' to liquidate some positions."

The benchmark U.S. oil contract recently dropped $1.50, or 1.6%, to $93.69 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline skidded lower by 2.3%. Meanwhile, in metals, gold fell $8.90, or 0.56%, 5o $1,569 a troy ounce.

On the corporate front, Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) posted quarterly profits of $1.67 a share, beating estimates by 10 cents. However, the world’s biggest retailer’s revenues of $127.1 billion came in shy of expectations of $128.8 billion. The company also boosted its dividend for its current fiscal year 18% to $1.88 a share.

There is a raft of data on the American economy on tap as well.

The Labor Department said inflation at the consumer level remained unchanged in January from December. Economists were expecting a 0.1% gain. Excluding the food and energy components, prices were up 0.3%, topping the 0.2% gain expected and marking the largest rise since May 2011.

A different report from Labor showed claims for unemployment benefits rose to 362,000 last week from an upwardly revised 342,000 the week prior. Claims were expected to rise to 355,000 from an initially reported 341,000.

Later, traders will get a fresh look at the housing market. Sales of existing, single-family homes are expected to have hit an annualized pace of 4.9 million units in January, which is just slightly lower than the 4.94 million rate from December. Recent data have suggested the recovery in the housing market having slowed down in the first month of the year.

The Philadelphia Federal Reserve's regional manufacturing gauge is forecast to show the factory sector in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region having switched back into expansion territory in February after dropping into contraction mode the month before.

Foreign Markets 

The Euro Stoxx 50 dropped 1.8% to 2594, the English FTSE 100 fell 1.6% to 6291 and the German DAX sold off by 1.8% to 7590.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 tumbled 1.4% to 11309 and the Chinese Hang Seng plummeted 1.7% to 22907.