U.S. stock futures point to a lower open on Thursday, ahead of the publication of the initial and continuing jobless claims reports, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Manufacturing Index, and corporate earnings statements from tech giants Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT).
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 0.05 percent, while futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index were up 0.04 percent, and those on the Nasdaq 100 Index were down 0.11 percent.
The initial jobless claims report, which measures the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time last week, is scheduled to be released by the Department of Labor at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Economists predict that claims are likely to decline to 345,000 for the week ended July 13, down from 360,000 in the previous week.
Meanwhile, economists expect continuing jobless claims data, which measure the number of unemployed individuals who qualify for benefits under unemployment insurance, to marginally decline to 2.96 million from the 2.98 million recorded in the previous week.
The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Manufacturing Index, which rates the relative level of general business conditions in Philadelphia, is scheduled to be released at 10:30 a.m. EDT. The index is expected show a reading of 7.8 in July, a steep decline from 12.5 points surge recorded in May. In April, the index had declined to minus 5.2 points. A reading above zero on the index indicates improving conditions while a reading below zero indicates worsening conditions.
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However, some analysts point out that given the signs of improvement in the Empire State survey for New York, it is unlikely that the Philly Fed index will fall as steeply as the consensus estimate suggests.
“The rise in the Empire State index in July, to +9.5 from +7.8 in June, casts some doubt over our forecast that the Philly Fed index fell back in the same month, to +5.0 from +12.5. These two surveys of regional manufacturing activity don’t always move in the same direction, but there is some evidence that industry is starting to fare a little better,” Paul Dales, an economist with Capital Economics said, in a research note.
On the corporate earnings front, a number of major companies, including Baxter International Inc. (NYSE: BAX), The Blackstone Group LP (NYSE: BX), BB&T Corp. (NYSE: BBT) Danaher Corp. (NYSE: DHR), Safeway Inc. (NYSE: SWY), UnitedHealth Group Inc. (NYSE: UNH) Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), and Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE: PM) are scheduled to announce their quarterly earnings before market hours. Companies such as Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NYSE: AMD), Capital One Financial Corp. (NYSE: COF), Google and Microsoft will report earnings after market hours.
In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 index was trading up 0.23 percent, London’s FTSE 100 was up 0.41 percent, Germany's DAX-30 was flat and France's CAC-40 was trading up 0.31 percent.
In England, the retail sales report for June showed that month-on-month sales were in line with expectations, nudging up 0.2 percent, after rising 2.1 percent in the previous month. Year-on-year, retail sales registered a 2.2 percent increase, beating expectations of a 1.7 percent rise.
Asian markets traded mixed on Thursday, with Japan’s Nikkei and India’s BSE Sensex tracking overnight gains in Wall Street and Europe, following Bernanke's comments on the future of the U.S. Federal Reserve's massive asset-purchase program, while markets in China fell on worries over Beijing's reluctance to stimulate a slowing economy.
Japan’s Nikkei ended up 1.3 percent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.23 percent. However, in China, the Shanghai Composite index closed down 1.05 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ended down 0.12 percent, while South Korea’s KOSPI Composite index ended the day down 0.64 percent. India’s BSE Sensex was trading up 0.65 percent in late-afternoon trade on Thursday.
Investors will also follow Bernanke’s statements before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday at 10.30 a.m. for further cues on the direction of U.S. monetary policy.
On Wednesday, Bernanke, at his congressional testimony, sought to assure markets that the Fed’s $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program “is by no means on a preset course." The Fed chairman reiterated his comments from earlier this month to say that the Fed's “asset purchases depend on economic and financial developments” and they could either be tapered or boosted depending on the economic data.
His comments soothed investors' concerns, sending stocks up in U.S. and Europe on Wednesday.