Wall Street was set for a lower open despite data showing ongoing healing in the labor market, as a rise in Spanish bond yields renewed concerns about the euro zone's financial health.
The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell to the lowest in nearly four years last week, according to a government report, showing healing in the labor market. But the data did not offset concerns about Spain and its ability to meet budget targets.
Poor demand at a Spanish bond sale on Wednesday heightened fears about funding difficulties for weaker euro zone countries, with investors seeing an easing of the effects of the European Central Bank's huge liquidity injections.
Overall the picture (from jobless claims data) remains positive, but we are frustrated by the failure of weekly claims to penetrate lower levels at which point we would have greater conviction that the jobs market is stepping on the gas pedal on its way to a destination of sustainable progress, said Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.
Thursday's jobs report has no direct relationship to the all-important March employment report due on Friday. But it could bolster the case that the pace of healing in the labor market is lowering the need for the Federal Reserve to do more to boost growth.
Economists polled by Reuters expect the employment report will show the economy added 203,000 jobs last month, for a fourth straight month of solid job creation, marking the longest stretch of monthly employment gains topping 200,000 since 1999.
Earlier on Thursday, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, reported that the number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell in March to the lowest level in 10 months as the government sector cut fewer jobs.
S&P 500 futures fell 5.2 points and were below 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 lost 45 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures fell 3 points.
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The services sector in China, the world's second-largest economy, expanded solidly in March and business confidence hit an 11-month high, though overall activity remained below its long-term average, a private sector survey of purchasing managers showed on Thursday.
U.S. stocks fell for a second day on Wednesday as investors contemplated a world without monetary stimulus and a poorly received bond auction in Spain suggested the effects of Europe's funding operations were waning.
The benchmark S&P 500 index has fallen in eight of the past 12 sessions, dropping below its 14-day moving average for the first time in a month. The Nasdaq posted its worst daily percentage drop since December 14.
(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio)