Stocks set to slide ... again

By staff

NEWYORK( -- U.S. stocks were set to open lower as investors continue to be rattled by Europe's ongoing debt problems.

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

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

U.S. stocks extended losses and a key measure of volatility on Wall Street hit a more than three-month high Wednesday amid signs of a deepening crisis in Europe.

Concerns about the situation in Europe remain in focus, with the European Central Bank holding a regularly scheduled meeting Thursday. But investors may also be ready to mount a rebound of sorts after incurring such heavy losses in recent days.

"Along with the concerns about Greece, Spain and Portugal, we have some heavy economic news out today and tomorrow here in the U.S.," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

He added that the market's tone improved in the final hours of trading Wednesday, with stocks cutting losses significantly, and that "some of the rally late yesterday has spilled over to today."

"If we get good to better-than-expected economic news, you could see stocks continue to move higher," said Luschini.

Economy: The Labor Department reported that the number of Americans filing first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell to 444,000 last week. That compares with the 440,000 estimated by economists and a revised 451,000 from the week before.

The report comes one day before the government's closely watched monthly jobs report, which is forecast to show employers grew payrolls by 187,000 jobs in April, after a gain of 162,000 in March. The unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 9.7%.

April same-store sales were due out from retailers through the morning.

A report on U.S. productivity showed modest gains in the first quarter, rising 3.6%.

Companies: Freddie Mac (FRE, Fortune 500) reported an $8 billion quarterly loss Wednesday and said that it needs another $10.6 billion from the federal government.

World markets: The FTSE 100 edged higher as polls opened for the general election in the United Kingdom. The DAX in Germany and France's CAC 40 also rose.

Asian markets tumbled. Japan's benchmark Nikkei index plunged 3.3% as investors, returning from a lengthy holiday, finally had the opportunity to react to the latest in the European debt crisis. The Shanghai Composite dived 4.1% and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong tumbled about 1%.

Other markets: The dollar continued to rally versus the euro, with the shared currency falling to $1.2737 - its lowest level since March 2009. The dollar also gained against the pound and yen.

The price of oil was up 11 cents to $80.07 a barrel. Gold prices rose $9.90 to $1,184.90 an ounce.

Treasury prices fell, with the yield on the 10-year note at 3.58%. To top of page

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