Stocks mull U.S. economy, Spain downgrade

@CNNMoneyInvest April 27, 2012: 8:47 AM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were poised to open slightly higher Friday, losing some momentum on concerns about weaker-than-expected U.S. economic growth and European debt, as Ford beat earnings expectations for the quarter.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were slightly higher Friday morning. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Investors backed off from higher gains after the U.S. government's report on first-quarter gross domestic product growth -- the broadest measure of the nation's economic health. The nation's gross domestic product rose by an annual rate of 2.2% in the first quarter, which was weaker than expected.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney forecast that GDP grew at a 2.5% rate in the first quarter, down from 3% in the fourth quarter of 2011.

After Thursday's closing bell, the S&P announced that it was downgrading Spain's credit rating from "A" to "BBB+" citing numerous drags on growth, and an ailing banking sector that might require further government support. The downgrade places Spanish debt only three steps above junk bond status.

Spain's has officially slipped back into recession, with two consecutive quarters of economic decline. The nation's notoriously stagnant job market has gotten worse, with the unemployment rate rising to 24.4%.

In other news, Ford Motor (F, Fortune 500) reported a 45% plunge in quarterly profit because of losses in Europe and a slight dip in sales. But the automaker still managed to beat expectations, and the stock rose 3% in premarket trading.

A busy week of corporate results ends with first-quarter data from No. 2 U.S. oil company Chevron (CVX, Fortune 500).

U.S. stocks ended with a strong finish Thursday, as hopes for more Federal Reserve stimulus and positive housing data overtook worries about the job market and mixed corporate earnings.

World markets: European stocks were higher in midday trading, despite the Spanish downgrade. London's FTSE 100 (UKX) edged higher 0.5%, the CAC 40 (CAC40) in Paris ticked up 1% and the DAX (DAX) in Frankfurt rose 0.7%.

Asian markets lost ground, despite steps by the Bank of Japan to further ease monetary policy there by announcing ¥5 trillion of additional asset purchases. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) shed 0.4%, while the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong slipped 0.3% and Japan's Nikkei (N225) fell 0.4%.

Economy: April's final reading of the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index is due out at 9:55 a.m. ET. Economists at Briefing.com predict the index will hit 76.1, slightly higher than the initial April reading and nearly the same as March.

Companies: Dow component Procter & Gamble (PG, Fortune 500) reported quarterly earnings of 93 cents per share, which beat expectations by one cent. Sales rose by 2% to $20.2 billion, but the stock lost 2% in premarket trading.

The drug giant Merck (MRK, Fortune 500) reported that its quarterly earnings jumped 8% to 99 cents per share, excluding certain charges. But the company fell short of forecasts by Thomson One Analytics projecting earnings of $1.03 per share.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Chevron to report improved earnings of $3.26 per share, on 20% increase in revenue due to higher oil prices. However, No. 1 U.S. oil company Exxon Mobil (XOM, Fortune 500) and No. 3 ConocoPhillips (COP, Fortune 500) have both missed forecasts when reporting earnings earlier this week.

Shares of Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) and Expedia (EXPE) were up in after-hours trading after both earnings reports that beat expectations. Amazon stock surged almost 12% on news that its expansion didn't cut into profits as deeply as anticipated. Travel site Expedia jumped more than 15%.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro, the Japanese yen and the British pound in morning trading.

Oil for June delivery lost 24 cents to $104.31 a barrel.

Gold futures for June delivery fell 50 cents to $1,660 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury edged higher, pushing the yield lower to 1.96%.  To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,501.65 -12.72 -0.08%
Nasdaq 4,126.97 -34.49 -0.83%
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