Shares in Wal-Mart Stores Inc dipped 1.5 percent to $53.27 in premarket trade after the retail giant reported a higher quarterly profit, but said sales at its existing U.S. namesake stores fell during the holiday quarter. The company also forecast earnings for the current quarter that could miss Wall Street estimates.
Investors are closely eyeing the Labor Department's weekly report on initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. EST. Economists in a Reuters poll expect 430,000 new claims compared with last week's reading of 440,000.
January Producer Price Index also will be released at 8:30 a.m. EST, with consensus forecasts calling for a rise of 0.8 percent following a 0.4 percent rise in December. The core rate, which excludes food and energy, is expected to show a gain of 0.1 percent compared to December's unchanged reading.
The direction of the market today really depends on the data out this morning as they will provide direction to the Fed's decision making on easing policies, said Craig Peckham, equity trading strategist at Jefferies & Co in New York.
He added that Wal-Mart numbers were disappointing on the sales line, painting a picture that that the retail sector is improving, but still at depressing levels.
S&P 500 futures fell 2 points and were slightly below value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 10 points, but Nasdaq 100 futures were up 0.8 points.
In other earnings news, Dell , the world's No. 3 PC maker, is expected to post fourth quarter earnings per share of $0.27 against $0.29 a year ago. Dell struggled through the economic downturn and investors hope the firm will say it benefited from a strong uptick in corporate spending on IT hardware, although deep market share losses and a lack of diversity in its business model may still worry Wall Street.
On Wednesday, Hewlett-Packard and Applied Materials beat estimates with their latest earnings and raised guidance for the year.
The Philadelphia Fed index is out at 10 a.m. EST, with a reading of 17.0 expected for February. That is above the 15.2 registered in February. Also at 10 a.m., the Conference Board issues its index of leading economic indicators for February, with a 0.5 percent rise considered likely following January's 1.1 percent increase.
On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve, said that several policymakers want to begin selling securities relatively soon to cut back the U.S. central bank's massive help to the financial system as the economy finds a footing.
Gold prices and gold mining companies also will be in the spotlight as the International Monetary Fund said it would soon begin sales of 191.3 tonnes of gold remaining in its plan to raise new resources for lending. Traders say the IMF may seek buyers among Asian central banks.
(Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)