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Stock futures point to mixed open ahead of holiday sales reports from nation's leading retailers.
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Investors and economists will find out Thursday morning if it truly was a happy holiday, and that is likely to set the direction for stocks.
U.S. stock futures were slightly lower ahead of the December sales reports from the nation's major retailers, although a comparison to fair value suggested a flat to mixed open for stocks.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial forecast that stores open at least a year, a closely watched retail measure known as same store sales, gained 3.2 percent in December, compared to a 3 percent rise in December 2004.
No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart Stores (Research) warned Saturday that its December sales gain would be only 2.2 percent, at the low end of its earlier guidance of a 2 to 4 percent gain. But wholesale club Costco (Research), the first major retailer to report sales Thursday, beat forecasts of a 6 percent rise in same store sales with a 7 percent gain.
Oil prices were slightly up ahead of the 10:30 a.m. ET release of the weekly U.S. fuel inventory, which is a day later than normal this week due to the New Year's holiday. The February light crude futures contract for NYMEX up 3 cents to $63.45 a barrel in electronic trading, while the February contract for Brent crude was up 13 cents to $61.81.
Treasury prices slipped slightly in early trading, lifting the yield on the 10-year note to 4.37 percent from the 4.35 percent level reached late Wednesday. The dollar lost ground against the euro and yen.
Major markets in Asia closed mixed Thursday, as Japan's Nikkei continued its recent gains, but stocks fell in Australia and South Korea. European markets were also slightly lower in early trading. Shares fell in Israel with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in critical condition after a massive stroke.
Economic reports due Thursday include the weekly report on initial jobless claims and the December reading from the Institute of Supply Management on the pace of service sector growth. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com are forecasting that jobless claims slipped to 320,000 from 322,000 the previous week, while the ISM Services index is seen rising to 59 from 58.5 in November.
In corporate news, Microsoft (Research) debuted a new music service, Urge, to directly compete with Apple Computer's (Research) iTunes music store and interface. Urge, unveiled at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, launches with more than 2 million tracks for purchase or as part of an all-you-can-hear subscription, an option the iTunes music store doesn't have.
Both Microsoft and Apple shares were slightly higher in European trading Monday.
The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that private equity firm Blackstone Group and Hewlett Packard (Research) are in talks for a joint purchase of Computer Sciences (Research), a consulting and outsourcing services firm. The paper said the purchase price is not yet known but Computer Sciences is looking for about $65 a share, or $12 billion, which would be a premium of about 28 percent over Computer Science current price.
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