NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Fears about Europe's debt crisis are bubbling to the top again, and are likely to keep pressure on U.S. stocks Thursday.
But a strong report from private payroll processor ADP, and a better-than-expected report on jobless claims, gave a bit of a boost to stock futures ahead of the opening bell.
Dow Jones industrial average (), S&P 500 ( )and Nasdaq ( ) futures bounced off their early morning lows and hovered around breakeven. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.
ADP reported that private-sector employers added 325,000 jobs in December. That was much stronger than the 180,000 economists had expected.
But worries about Europe will likely temper the enthusiasm.
Early Thursday, France's first bond auction of the year took center stage. Roughly €8 billion of 10- to 30-year bonds were sold, with the 10-year drawing an average yield of 3.29% -- an improvement over the 3.18% yield at its last auction in December.
That's "a long way from the punishing borrowing costs paid by Spain and Italy, but arguably a step closer to a credit rating downgrade," wrote Ranvir Singh, CEO of market analysis firm RANsquawk, in a note.
France's 10-year yield is hovering around 3%, while Italy's continues to flirt with 7% and the yield on Spain's 10-year bond is roughly 5.6%.
The threat of a downgrade to France's pristine AAA credit rating has worried investors after Fitch put the country on negative watch last month and Standard & Poor's said it was reviewing 15 members of the eurozone for a possible downgrade.
Before the opening bell Thursday, investors will also mull over the latest economic data in the United States including reports on unemployment claims, job cuts and the strength of the services sector.
U.S. stocks are coming off a mixed close Wednesday. Strong auto sales and a rise in November factory orders supported stocks during the day, but investors were also cautious given Europe's debt crisis.
"We're going to have continued volatility through at least the first quarter, and it's probably going to be largely driven by what's going on overseas," said Tim Speiss, partner in charge of the Personal Wealth Advisors Group at EisnerAmper.
Banks, one of the hardest hit sectors in 2011, were under pressure, with shares of Morgan Stanley (Fortune 500), Citigroup ( , Fortune 500), JPMorgan Chase ( , Fortune 500), Goldman Sachs ( , Fortune 500) and Bank of America ( , Fortune 500) all down between 1% and 2% in premarket trading.,
World markets: European stocks fell in midday trading. Britain's FTSE 100 ( ) shed 0.6%, the DAX ( ) in Germany lost 0.8% and France's CAC 40 ( ) edged lower 1%.
Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite () fell 1%, while the Hang Seng ( ) in Hong Kong rose 0.5% and Japan's Nikkei ( ) slid 0.8%.
Economy: At 8:30 a.m. ET, the Labor Department reported its latest tally on jobless claims. Initial unemployment claims for the week ended Dec. 31 came in at 372,000 -- slightly lower than expectations of 375,000, according to a survey of analysts by Briefing.com -- and down from a revised 387,000 the prior week.
The Institute for Supply Management will also release the December installment of its services index, which tracks non-manufacturing orders, employment and inventories. The index is expected to rise to 53, from 52 in the month prior.
Companies: Agricultural producer Monsanto ( , Fortune 500) released quarterly results before the opening bell on Thursday. Profits and sales topped forecasts, sending shares up 2% in premarket trading.
Investors will also be watching retailers, which report same-store sales -- a key metric of retailers' health -- Thursday.
Target (Fortune 500) reported sales of 1.6% for the month of December, falling far short of forecasts. As a result, the retailer also cut its fourth-quarter earnings forecast.,
Eastman Kodak (Fortune 500) shares dropped 2.1% in premarket trading, following a report that the company was preparing for a possible bankruptcy filing.
Currencies and commodities: The dollar rose against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.
Oil for February delivery slipped 42 cents to $102.80 a barrel.
Gold futures for February delivery fell $1.70 to $1,611 an ounce.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose, pushing the yield down to 1.97% from 1.99% late Wednesday.
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