Sentiment on Wall Street has turned mildly positive on Thursday ahead of several key economic data that could clarify the economic outlook further. The Eurogroup is set to meet later today in Brussels to decide whether Greece has satisfied all conditions necessary for securing the second tranche of bailout funds. The jobless claims report, the personal spending data, auto sales for February and the results of the national manufacturing survey along with auto sales and chain store sales could provide trading cues on a data-heavy day.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to go to Capitol Hill to present his semi-annual monetary policy address, this time before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. His address is set to begin at 10 am ET. There is unlikely to be much deviation from what Bernanke testified before the House Financial Services Committee yesterday.
As of 6:30 am ET, the Dow futures are rising 20 points, the S&P 500 futures are up 1.80 points and the Nasdaq 100 futures are adding 8.25 points.
U.S. stocks showed nervousness throughout Wednesday's session before closing lower. The initial strength that came about following the release of a report showing an upward revision to advance fourth quarter GDP estimates weakened following Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's Congressional testimony, which revealed no hints whatsoever about another round of stimulus.
On the economic front, the Labor Department is due to release its customary jobless claims report for the week ended February 25th at 8:30 am ET. Economists expect claims to edge up to 355,000 from 351,000 in the previous week.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis is due to release its personal income & outlays report for January. Economists expect the report, which is due out at 8:30 am ET, to show that personal income rose 0.5 percent and personal spending increased by 0.4 percent. In December, personal income rose 0.5 percent and personal spending edged down marginally.
Additionally, the results of the manufacturing survey of the Institute for Supply Management, which are based on data compiled from purchasing and supply executives nationwide, are due out at 10 am ET. Economists expect the index to show a reading of 54.6 for February, a modest increase from 54.1 in January.
The Commerce Department's construction spending report to be released at 10 am ET is expected to show a 1 percent increase in January.
Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank President Dennis Lockhart and San Francisco Federal Reserve President John Williams are all scheduled to make public appearances today.
In corporate news, Weingarten Realty (WRI) announced fourth quarter recurring funds from operation of 48 cents per share, up 11.6 percent year-over-year and ahead of the consensus estimate of 45 cents per share. The company also announced a 5.5 percent increase in its dividend to 29 cents per share. For 2012, the company expects recurring funds from operations to be in the range of $1.81-$1.91 per share, surrounding the $1.86 per share consensus estimate.
Thermo Fisher Scientific (TMO) said its board has approved the initiation of a quarterly dividend to its shareholders for the first time in its history. The initial payout amount is 13 cents per share.
Zumiez (ZUMZ) reported a 14.2 percent year-over-year increase in its comparable store sales for February compared to a 12.8 percent in the year-ago period.
MBIA (MBI) reported a net loss of $3.23 per share for its fourth quarter compared with net income of $2.24 per share last year, weighed down by losses tied to insured credit derivatives.
Sotheby's (BID) reported below-consensus results for its fourth quarter.
Finisar's (FNSR) third quarter non-GAAP earnings met expectations, while its revenues were below estimates. The company issued downbeat guidance for its fourth quarter.
The major Asian markets ended mostly lower, with only the New Zealand and Malaysian markets bucking the downtrend. The South Korean market remained closed for a public holiday. The negative lead from Wall Street overnight and apprehensions ahead of several U.S. first-tier data generated negative sentiment in the markets.
Japan's Nikkei 225 average gave back its morning's gains and retreated into negative territory in the afternoon before ending down 15.87 points or 0.16 percent at 9,707. Australia's All Ordinaries ended down 42.10 points or 0.96 percent at 4,346. Hong Kong's Hang Seng ended 292.12 points or 1.35 percent lower at 21,388.
Manufacturing readings released from China were mixed. A government survey showed that Chinese manufacturing activity expanded at the fastest rate in 5 months in February, while Markit's survey showed that the manufacturing sector continued to remained in contraction zone, contracting at the fastest rate since June 2011.
The major European markets are gaining ground on optimism regarding a final word on Greece's bailout.
The French CAC 40 Index is adding 0.39 percent compared to a 0.48 percent gain by the German DAX Index and the 0.50 percent advance by the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index.
Spain conducted successful auctions of 2,3 and 4-year bonds at yields lower than at previous auctions.
Flash estimates released by Eurostat showed that the region's annual inflation quickened to 2.7 percent in February from 2.6 percent in January. A separate report released by Eurostat showed a rise in the unemployment rate to 10.7 percent, representing a record high.
Final figures released by Markit Economics showed that the eurozone's manufacturing sector contracted at an unrevised rate. The purchasing managers' index was left unrevised at 49 in February, although higher than the 48.8 reading for January.
Media giant Vivendi reported a decline in its fourth quarter net profits, although on an adjusted basis, profits were higher. Citing competitive pressure, the company said it expects no profit growth until 2014. Dutch supermarket chain Ahold reported strong fourth quarter profit growth and also raised its 2011 dividend. Advertising firm WPP posted 18 percent growth in its pre-tax profits form2011.
Commodities are gaining ground and the dollar is broadly lower.
by RTT Staff Writer
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