Stocks poised for weak open

By CNNMoney.com staff


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- U.S. stocks were set for a weak open Thursday as investors digests reports about the number of people filing for unemployment and the trade balance.

Dow Jones industrial average, Nasdaq 100 and S&P 500 futures were lower ahead of the opening bell.

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

U.S. stocks have been lackluster this week as investors stepped back to mull what direction markets are headed. On Wednesday, the Dow, S&P 500 and Nasdaq managed to carve out modest gains.

Analysts have been saying that the markets will continue to drift in a narrow range. "There are no buyers to get us over the next hump," said David Rovelli, managing director of U.S. equity trading at Canaccord Adams, on Wednesday.

Futures were already trading lower early this morning, then dipped further after reports on initial jobless claims and the trade balance.

Before these reports came out, David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Markets in London, warned that job market expectations had been bolstered by last week's better-than-expected payrolls report.

"The risk now is that the markets could be setting themselves up for disappointment," he said. "If we get a slightly worse-than-expected number, that could be used as an excuse to get out, because expectations are running a bit high because of the payrolls number."

Economy: The Labor Department reported that weekly jobless claims fell to 462,000 in the week ended March 6.

The number of new unemployment filers was expected to have fallen to 460,000, according to a consensus of economist forecasts from Briefing.com.

But the number of people filing continuing claims rose to 4,558,000 in the week ended Feb. 27, the most recent data available. That was up 37,000 from the preceding week's upwardly revised 4,521,000 claims.

Also, the Census Bureau reported that the trade gap narrowed to $37.3 billion in January, from the revised figure of $39.9 billion the prior month.

This was significantly less than expected. The bureau was forecast to report that the January trade gap widened to $41 billion from $40.2 billion in December.

A report on foreclosure rates showed an increase on a year-over-year basis but the pace slowed.

Foreclosures were up 6% in February from a year earlier, marking the smallest jump since RealtyTrac began calculating year-over-year increases in January 2006.

World markets: European markets were lower in midday trading. Britain's FTSE 100, France's CAC 40 and Germany's DAX posted modest losses. Asian shares ended the session up less than 1%. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong finished the day with a 0.09% gain and the Nikkei in Japan managed to rise 0.96%.

Cash and bonds: The dollar was lower versus the euro, the yen and the pound. The price of the 10-year note rose, pushing down the yield up to 3.74%.

Oil and gold: The price of oil fell 76 cents to $81.47 a barrel. The price of gold fell $7 per ounce to $1,101.10. To top of page

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