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Lower start seen for stocks

By CNNMoney.com staff

NEW YORK(CNNMoney.com) -- U.S. stocks were headed for a lower open Thursday, as investors reacted to a disappointing job market report.

Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq 100 futures were down.

Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance and offer an indication of how markets may open when trading begins in New York.

U.S. stocks rose Wednesday, lifted by robust company reports and a reading on the housing sector that came in better than expected. The gains came on the heels of Tuesday's big advance.

Derek Hoffman, chief executive and founder of Wall St. Cheat Sheet, said that the biggest market-movers in early trading will be earnings from "bellwether" retailer Wal-Mart and the economic indicators for jobless claims and the Philadelphia Fed.

Economy: The Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims surged to 473,000 in the week ended Feb. 13, an increase from the prior week's upwardly revised figure of 442,000.

That was much worse than expected. Initial jobless claims were forecast to have totaled 430,000, according to a consensus of economist opinion from Briefing.com.

The producer price index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.4% in January, which was much higher than expected. The PPI was forecast to increase 0.8%, according to Briefing.com consensus, compared to a gain of 0.4% in December.

The latest index of leading economic indicators will be released at 10 a.m. ET. The Philly Fed, a regional manufacturing survey, also comes out then.

Earnings: Retail behemoth Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) released its quarterly financial results before the opening bell.

Wal-Mart beat profit expectations, reporting adjusted earnings of $1.17 per share for the fourth quarter. The company was expected to report a 9% gain in earnings per share, or $1.12, according to a consensus of analyst forecasts from Thomson Reuters.

Same-store sales were down 1.6% for the fourth quarter and they were flat for the year, the company said. The company's stock dipped in pre-market trading.

Companies:Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) posted late Wednesday results that topped Wall Street's estimates. The company also raised its outlook for the full year.

AIG (AIG, Fortune 500) has decided to drop a plan to completely unwind its derivatives portfolio and instead may keep up to $500 billion of the controversial assets, according to published reports.

World markets: Stocks in Europe drifted slightly higher in midday trading. Stocks in Japan managed to eke out gains, with the Nikkei adding 0.3%.

Cash and bonds: The dollar was mixed against major international currencies, rising against the euro and the British pound but slipping versus the yen. The price of the 10-year note fell, pushing up the yield to 3.70%.

Oil and gold: The stronger dollar helped to drive down the price of oil, which fell 67 cents to $76.66 a barrel. The Energy Information Administration's weekly crude inventory report comes out Thursday morning.

The price of gold fell $11.40 per ounce to $1,108.10, following the International Monetary Fund's announcement on Wednesday that it would sell another 191.3 tons of gold.

The IMF said it has already sold 212 tons of gold since September. The Reserve Bank of India was the leading purchaser by far, having bought 200 tons. In all, the IMF plans to reduce its gold holdings by an eighth. To top of page

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