Stocks: Investors hit pause

March 21, 2013: 9:14 AM ET
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NEW YORK (CNNMoney)

Investors were cautious on Thursday, as Cyprus once again takes a backseat to the economy.

U.S. stock futures were little changed ahead of the open as investors mulled over the latest readings on initial jobless claims and awaited reports on existing home sales and the Philly Fed's monthly business outlook.

Jobless claims totaled 336,000 last week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That's up 2,000 from the prior week, but less than the 345,000 claims forecast by Briefing.com consensus.

Also, a report on Chinese manufacturing showed activity expanded at a faster clip than expected by many economists. That may help quell worries about China's economy slowing down.

While Cyprus continues to heat up, investors have become less concerned about contagion spreading to other financial markets. Early Thursday, the European Central Bank told the troubled nation it had until Monday to sort itself out or face the consequences of a potential financial collapse and/or exit from the euro.

Meanwhile, the latest bond auction in Spain drew strong demand, even as European markets trended lower in morning trading.

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U.S. stocks ended higher Wednesday, after the Federal Reserve reiterated that its stimulus measures will remain in effect until the job market gets back on track. The Dow Jones industrial average hit a new record high shortly after the Fed's statement, though it pulled back by the close.

Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital, said the Fed's decision was a "Goldilocks paradise for the stock market." He pointed out that investors have few places beyond stocks to park their money in the current low-interest environment.

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Just days after recalling see-through yoga pants, Lululemon athletica (LULU) reported earnings and sales that squeaked past estimates and said it was working closely with manufacturers to resolve the yoga pant issue. The company also said its current quarter and full year earnings would come in below analysts' forecasts.

Homebuilder KB Home (KBH) reported that sales surged 59% in the first quarter, as more homes were delivered and prices increased. The stock rose 3% in premarket trading. Nike (NKE) is also up before the open.

Shares of Oracle (ORCL) sank more than 7% in premarket trading, a day after the tech giant reported quarterly earnings that missed expectations.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite added 0.3% and the Nikkei increased 1.3%, while the Hang Seng declined 0.1%.

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