Stocks struggle to recover momentum

u.s. stock futures, premarket
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A slew of economic reports and quarterly results from Walmart headline the agenda for investors on Thursday, but stocks may struggle to regain momentum after a weak business survey from Europe.

U.S. futures were lower ahead of the opening bell, after a survey of purchasing managers showed Europe's downturn worsened in February. The index has been stuck below 50 for a year, indicating the services sector has been contracting.

European markets fell sharply in morning trading, following the disappointing data.

In United States, initial jobless claims rose to 362,000 last week, coming in higher than economists were expecting.

The Consumer Price Index was unchanged month-over-month in January, and up 1.6% from a year ago. Core CPI, which strips the price of food and energy, increased 0.3% month-over-month in January, and 1.9% from a year earlier.

At 10 a.m. ET, the National Association of Realtors will release data on existing home sales, while the Philadelphia branch of the Federal Reserve will release its monthly business outlook survey.

On the corporate front, Walmart (WMT)reported earnings that beat forecasts but said sales had softened during the quarter. The retailer also hiked its annual dividend by 18%.

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Chesapeake Energy (CHK) shares rose more than 2% after the company announced better-than-expected quarterly results. Safeway (SWY) will also report its results in the morning, and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) is up after the closing bell.

Apple (AAPL) shares fell 0.6% in premarket trading, after Foxconn (FXCNF) said it is slowing its hiring of workers at factories in China. The Taiwanese company makes about 40% of the world's consumer electronics gadgets, including products and parts for Apple, Intel (INTC)and Cisco (CSCO).

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Tesla (TSLA) shares sank 8% in premarket trading after the electric-car maker posted a wider-than-expected loss for the fourth quarter.

U.S. stocks ended lower Wednesday after Federal Reserve meeting minutes raised worries the central bank might scale back its bond-buying program. Despite Wednesday's losses, stocks are still up between 5% and 6% so far this year.

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Asian markets ended weaker, also following the U.S. lead. The Shanghai Composite lost 3.0%, the Nikkei fell 1.4% and the Hang Seng declined 1.7%.

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