Stocks look soft; Oil holds gains; Auto sales due

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1. Stocks look soft: Stock markets are treading warily as the wintery month of December gets underway in the northern hemisphere.

U.S. stock futures are looking soft and many European markets are dipping in early trading.

Traders are also shifting money out of the bond market, causing yields on most 10-year government debt to rise.

However, Asian markets ended the day with decent gains, catching up with Wednesday's jump on the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 after oil prices surged on news that the OPEC cartel would cut output.

2. Oil holds gains: U.S. crude futures were holding onto most of those sharp gains in early dealing Thursday, trading narrowly firmer at just below $50 a barrel.

Stocks in Saudi Arabia -- the world's biggest oil exporter -- got a boost, gaining just over 1%.

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3. Fasten your seatbelts: Major auto manufacturers, including GM (GM) and Ford (F), are releasing November U.S. auto sales numbers throughout the day.

Sales in October were about 1% down compared to the same time in the previous year, reinforcing the view that auto sales in America may have peaked.

4. The Italian job: Italy's revised GDP numbers are coming out Thursday and growth isn't expected to improve. Third quarter growth is projected to remain below 1%.

The figures are being released at the same time as eurozone unemployment data for October. Unemployment in the eurozone stands at 10% and is not expected to improve. Joblessness, and underemployment, are key factors fueling discontent across the region.

5. Earnings: Dollar General (DG), Express (EXPR), Kroger (KR) and Lands' End (LE) are releasing earnings before the open Thursday, while gun manufacturer Smith & Wesson (SWHC) is set to release earnings after the close.

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6. Coming this week:
Thursday - Auto sales
Friday - U.S. jobs report