Dow Jones May Rise Ahead of Jobless Figures

LONDON -- Stock index futures at 7 a.m. EST indicate that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) may open up by a nominal four points this morning, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) may open a single point higher.

It's Thursday -- and that means it's time for the latest jobless figures, plus a raft of other economic reports that could add momentum to the Dow's recent gains. First up, at 8:30 a.m. EST, the latest weekly jobless-claims figures are expected to show that new claims rose slightly last week to 353,000, up from 344,000 the previous week. Also due at 8:30 a.m. EST, January's trade balance is expected to have fallen to -$42.4 billion from $38.5 billion in December; revised fourth-quarter productivity figures may show a fall of 1.6%, up from 2% in the initial reading; and revised Q4 unit labor costs are expected to remain unchanged, up 4.5%.

The outcome of this month's Bank of England and European Central Bank monetary-policy meetings will be closely scrutinized by investors. In the U.K. this morning, the Bank of England voted to leave interest rates unchanged at 0.5% and its quantitative-easing budget unchanged at 375 billion pounds. The ECB's decision on whether to cut its interest rate, currently 0.75%, was announced at 7:45 a.m. EST ahead of a press conference at 8:30 a.m. EST.

Companies due to report earnings today include Kroger, Smithfield Foods, and H&R Block. Stocks that may be actively traded when markets open include PetSmart, which tumbled 6.8% in premarket trading this morning after saying that sales and earnings were likely to miss consensus forecasts in 2013. Time Warner may rise after announcing that it will spin off its Time magazine division; Time Warner shares were 1.4% higher in after-hours trading last night.

European markets
European markets moved cautiously higher ahead of today's Bank of England and ECB decisions. Analysts expect that the ECB will cut its 0.75% rate at some point, but only four out of 76 economists polled by Reuters expected a cut today. In Spain, a successful auction of 10-year government bonds helped push yields on 10-year debt below 5%, suggesting that fears about Italy are receding.

At 7:30 a.m. EST, the DAX was up 0.14%, the CAC 40 was up 0.18%, the FTSE MIB was down 0.07%, and the IBEX 35 was up 0.74%. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) was up 0.18% despite a 12.9% fall for insurance firm Aviva, which announced a 44% cut to its final dividend this morning in its full-year results. Heading the other way was temporary-power specialist Aggreko, which was up by 14.6% at 7 a.m. EST after publishing a strong set of results. Aggreko's share price has now regained most of the ground lost after it issued a cautious trading update in November.

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