February 23, 2012 / 10:31 AM / 6 years ago

Stcok futures little changed ahead of jobless claims data

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stock index futures were little changed on Thursday ahead of a report on the U.S. labor market as initial enthusiasm over solid German data waned.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 21, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Banks led U.S. stocks lower on Wednesday after signs of weak European business activity rekindled concerns about a recession overseas, keeping the benchmark S&P 500 index from piercing the 1,360 level, a 10-month high seen as a key resistance point.

While a convincing break above 1,360 could trigger more gains, the likelihood of a pullback increases with each failed attempt. The S&P has risen more than 20 percent from its October lows and is up 8 percent for the year.

“The market has had a great rally off the idea that too much bad news has been discounted and it didn’t happen. Now at these higher levels to continue to rally, the markets are seeking more positive news that suggests the economy will be OK and hopefully will grow,” said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York.

“The assumption of investors is that whatever problems in Europe will be balanced out by better growth in the U.S. and it remains to be seen whether that momentum pickup we’ve seen over the last few months is sustainable.”

Investors will look to U.S. weekly jobless claims data for further confirmation of an improving labor market and economic recovery. Economists forecast a total of 354,000 new filings, compared with 348,000 in the prior week. The report is due at 8:30 a.m. EST.

German business sentiment rose to its strongest level in seven months in February, boosting hopes Europe’s largest economy will sidestep recession, even as euro zone peers took steps to fight off the sovereign debt crisis.

But initial optimism faded, and European stocks turned negative after a European Union official said the economy was heading into its second recession in three years and the wider EU would stagnate. The FTSEurofirst 300 index .FTEU3 of top European shares was down 0.1 percent. .EU

S&P 500 futures rose 0.8 point and were slightly above 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 18 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 4.5 points.

Hewlett-Packard Co (HPQ.N) lost 2.8 percent to $28.14 in premarket trading a day after the world’s No. 1 computer maker forecast second-quarter profit below Wall Street estimates.

Kohl’s Corp (KSS.N) slipped 1.3 percent to $51.50 in light premarket trade after the department store chain said it expects its sales to rise again this fiscal year, but gave a profit forecast that missed analysts’ estimates.

Fellow retailer Target Corp (TGT.N) gained 1 percent to $53.48 premarket after reporting its quarterly results and outlook.

Hormel Foods Corp (HRL.N) also reported quarterly results early Thursday.

Other companies expected to post earnings Thursday include Salesforce.com Inc (CRM.N) and Gap Inc (GPS.N).

According to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning, of the 424 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 64 percent topped analysts’ expectations.

Potash Corp POT.TOPOT.N, the world’s largest fertilizer producer, extended temporary shutdowns at two of its largest potash mines to reduce inventories.

Asian shares fell on concerns about global growth, driven by higher oil prices and discouraging European economic data.

Reporting By Chuck Mikolajczak; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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