Wall Street was set to open little changed on Thursday after economic bellwether FedEx reported quarterly results that missed expectations, suggesting an economic recovery remained tentative.
Economic data on jobs and housing were in line with expectations. First-time jobless claims were essentially unchanged in the latest week, cementing a recent downward trend that remains too modest to bring down unemployment.
I think the continuation of a drop in initial jobless claims might suggest some easing in the unemployment rate, but not much. We've got a long ways to go, said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at Davidson Cos in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
U.S. housing starts rose slightly more than forecast in November, but an unexpected drop in permits for future home construction dropped to a 1-1/2 year low, indicated continued weakness in the housing market.
S&P 500 futures dipped 0.2 point and were slightly above fair 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 added 8 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures added 1.75 points.
U.S. stocks suffered a third straight late-day selloff on Wednesday, suggesting it may be difficult to chalk up further gains as the year comes to a close. The Dow hit a fresh 52-week high intraday at 11,519.04 but closed at 11,457.47.
Technically, the Dow enters today trading above potential short-term support at the 11,450 level, while resistance at the 11,500 level is still a major barrier to a continued rally, said Joseph Hargett, analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Investors will also keep an eye on developments in the euro zone, as European Union leaders meet Thursday to try to agree on the next steps in tackling a debt crisis that threatens to spread to Portugal and Spain after consuming Greece and Ireland.
A deal that U.S. President Barack Obama struck with Republicans to extend tax cuts for nearly every working American and spur job growth moves to the U.S. House of Representatives for passage as early as Thursday.
(Reporting by Angela Moon; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)