Dow May Start Flat as Cliff Fears Grow

LONDON -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) may both open broadly flat this morning, according to stock index futures at 7 a.m. EST, which indicated a nominal 10-point opening gain for the Dow and a 1.5-point rise for the S&P 500.

Today's economic calendar kicks off at 8:30 a.m. EST with the latest weekly jobless claims figures, which are expected to have risen to 360,000, from 343,000 the previous week. The final GDP reading for the third quarter is also expected at 8:30 a.m. EST, with consensus forecasts suggesting that the initial reading of 2.7% will be upgraded to 2.9%. At 10 a.m. EST comes housing data: Existing-home sales are expected to have risen by 2.3% in November after gaining 2.1% in October, while the October FHFA home prices index is expected to show a 0.4% increase, up from 0.2% the previous month.

It could be an interesting day for corporate earnings, too, as earnings season begins to get under way. Companies scheduled to provide quarterly updates before markets open today include KB Home, CarMax, Carnival, ConAgra Foods, and Discover Financial Services. Among those reporting after the closing bell tonight are Nike and Research in Motion. Nike is expected to report stable second-quarter earnings of around $1 per share, but RIM is expected to report a third consecutive quarterly loss as it struggles against Apple and Android-powered phones. Finally, shares in IntercontinentalExchange and NYSE Euronext could see active trading after a report in The Wall Street Journal revealed that the companies are considering "a possible combination."

European markets
In Europe, markets remained fairly flat this morning as anxiety over slowing progress in the fiscal-cliff negotiations dampens sentiment and prevents investors from buying into recent highs. As of 7:30 a.m., the DAX is up 0.06%, the CAC 40 is up 0.58%, the FTSE MIB is 0.01% higher, and the IBEX 35 is down 0.04%. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) is up 0.14%, with pump manufacturer Weir Group topping the gainers with a rise of 3.2% after it announced the purchase of pressure control specialist Mathena in a 148 million pound deal that should improve its exposure to the lucrative shale oil and gas market.

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