LONDON -- Stock index futures at 7 a.m. EST indicate that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) may open down by 0.23% this morning, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC ) may open 0.25% lower.
A deluge of economic data is scheduled to hit the markets today. First up, at 8:30 a.m. EST, are the latest weekly jobless claims: 350,000 new claims are expected, up slightly from 341,000 the previous week. Also due at 8:30 a.m. EST, January's Consumer Price Index is expected to show a rise of 0.1% after staying flat in December. At 9 a.m. EST, the Market flash PMI for February is expected to be come in at 55.5, slightly below January's revised reading of 55.8. At 10 a.m. EST, existing-home sales figures for January are expected to show that 4.9 million homes were sold in January, down from 4.94 million in December, while February's Philly Fed manufacturing survey is expected to turn positive with a reading of 1.6, up from -5.8 in January.
This morning Wal-Mart Stores (NYSE: WMT ) reported fourth-quarter earnings, revealing that profit rose 8.6% over the prior-year quarter to $5.6 billion, or $1.67 per share, versus analyst estimates of $1.57 per share. The company credited a strong holiday season, which saw improved sales owing to competitive price-matching and an extended layaway program. Wal-Mart, whose stock fell heavily last week after an internal memo describing February sales as a "total disaster" was leaked, is flat in premarket trading.
Several other big names are due to report quarterly earnings this morning, too. Chesapeake Energy, Carlyle Group, and Hormel Foods are among those due to report before the markets open this morning.
Shares of Hewlett-Packard are likely to be heavily traded today ahead of the company's results, which will be issued after the closing bell tonight. Other big names due to report after markets close include American International Group and Intuit.
European markets slid sharply lower this morning as investors took fright at the thought that the Federal Reserve might cut back on QE in the near future and responded to overnight falls in the price of gold and oil. New eurozone data didn't help, either -- the latest French PMIs suggest that Europe's second-largest economy is contracting sharply. The French service-sector PMI fell to 42.7 in February from 43.6 in January, while the composite PMI dropped from 42.7 to 42.3.
At 7 a.m. EST, the DAX was down 1.8%, the CAC 40 was down 1.8%, the FTSE MIB was down 2.7%, and the IBEX 35 was down 1.6%. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE ) was down 1.7%, with only four companies managing to rise against the tide. Defense giant BAE Systems was the leader, up by more than 5% following a 4% dividend increase and a better-than-expected set of annual results. BAE is heavily exposed to the risk of sequestration in the U.S. market, but it said it still anticipates "modest" earnings growth in 2013.
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