Dow to Open Flat Amid Fiscal-Cliff Uncertainty

LONDON -- Stock index futures at 8 a.m. EST suggest that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) will fall by three points and one point, respectively, when markets open.

Investors' attention is likely to return to the fiscal cliff today after signs emerged that the Republicans may be adopting a more flexible approach toward tax rises for high-income taxpayers. Investors currently have their eyes set on Europe: The European Central Bank announced at 7:45 a.m. EST that it will hold the main refinancing rate at 0.75% -- no change there, but ECB chief Mario Draghi may yet provide some clues about future decisions.

At home, today's key economic report is the weekly jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. New jobless claims are expected to have dropped to 380,000 from 393,000 the previous week, according to a Reuters survey. Third-quarter household debt figures and the EIA weekly natural-gas storage report are also due later in the day after markets have opened.

In corporate news, Apple shares could be in focus today after the company dropped 6.4% yesterday, accounting for the entire 1.1% drop in the Nasdaq 100, according to Reuters. Also of interest may be Starbucks, which said yesterday it plans to open at least 3,000 new shops over the next five years, expanding its footprint in the Americas by more than 20%. Companies due to report earnings today include Lululemon Athletica, while Smithfield Foods reported a 3% fall in revenue and a fall in net income to $10.9 million during the second quarter.

European markets
Markets had a mixed start in Europe this morning. The economic news was broadly downbeat, confirming that the eurozone is in recession after it posted a 0.1% fall in GDP over the third quarter. Unemployment also continued to rise in many countries -- most notably Greece, Spain, and, worryingly, France. Positive news came from Germany, where factory orders rose by 3.9% in October, beating expectations for a 1% rise. However, Italian shares fell on fears that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi will force a general election to unseat widely respected interim leader Mario Monti.

At 8 a.m. EST, the DAX was up 0.88%, the CAC 40 was up 0.2%, the Italian FTSE MIB was down 0.87%, and the IBEX 35 was up 0.14%. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) was up 0.3%, with gains limited by 3%-plus falls for both Sage Group and Rolls-Royce Holdings, which revealed that it is in discussions with the U.K.'s Serious Fraud Office about possible bribery scandals involving intermediaries in Indonesia and China.

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