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Stocks May Show A Lack Of Direction In Early Trading - U.S. Commentary

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Following the volatility seen in the previous session, stocks may continue to experience choppy trading on Thursday. The major index futures are currently pointing to mixed open for the markets, as the Dow futures are down by 33 points but the Nasdaq futures are up by 20 points.

The futures gave back ground after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC the U.S. is "miles and miles" from a trade deal with China.

"Frankly, that shouldn't be too surprising," Ross said in an interview on CNBC's "Squawk Box," noting the U.S. and China have "lots and lots of issues."

The comments from Ross come ahead of Chinese Vice Premier Liu He's trip to Washington next week for the next round of trade negotiations.

Renewed concerns about a U.S.-China trade deal have offset positive sentiment generated by a report from the Labor Department showing initial jobless claims fell to their lowest level in almost fifty years in the week ended January 19th.

The report said initial jobless claims slid to 199,000, a decrease of 13,000 from the previous week's revised level of 212,000.

The drop surprised economists, who had expected jobless claims to rise to 220,000 from the 213,000 originally reported for the previous week.

With the unexpected decrease, jobless claims fell to their lowest level since hitting 197,000 in November of 1969.

Shortly after the start of trading, the Conference Board is due to release its report on leading economic indicators in the month of December. The leading economic index is expected to edge down by 0.1 percent.

Earnings news also remains in focus on the day, with semiconductor giant Intel (INTC) among the companies releasing their quarterly results after the close of today's trading.

Stocks fluctuated over the course of the trading session on Wednesday after failing to sustain an early move to the upside. The major averages showed wild swings as the day progressed before ending the session in positive territory.

While the major averages all closed higher, the Dow outperformed its counterparts by a wide margin. The Dow climbed 171.14 points or 0.7 percent to 24,575.62, while the Nasdaq crept up 5.41 points or 0.1 percent to 7,025.77 and the S&P 500 inched up 5.80 points or 0.2 percent to 2,638.70.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly higher on Thursday, although Japan's Nikkei 225 Index edged down by 0.1 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 Index both rose by 0.4 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets are turning in a mixed performance on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is down by 0.4 percent, the German DAX Index is up by 0.2 percent and the French CAC 40 Index is up by 0.5 percent.

In commodities trading, crude oil futures are falling $0.38 to $52.24 a barrel after sliding $0.39 to $52.62 a barrel on Wednesday. Meanwhile, an ounce of gold is trading at $1,277.40, down $6.60 compared to the previous session's close of $1,284. On Wednesday, gold crept up $0.60.

On the currency front, the U.S. dollar is trading at 109.56 yen compared to the 109.60 yen it fetched at the close of New York trading on Wednesday. Against the euro, the dollar is valued at $1.1334 compared to yesterday's $1.1381.

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