Market news
16.12.2010, 14:24

Before the bell: U.S. stocks were poised to open little changed Thursday morning, ahead of reports on labor and housing.

Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were down slightly ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

On Wednesday, stocks declined as investors weighed worries about a possible Spain downgrade with relatively upbeat U.S. inflation data.

The Senate approved the controversial $858-billion tax package Wednesday, despite a series of objections from both parties. The measure, which passed 81-19, now advances to the House.

Most investors expect the compromise to pass largely intact. Markets will likely get a bit of a boost as the deal is formalized but "unless there is a wholesale shift and it goes into this huge battle," markets won't move too much, said Dan Cook, CEO of IG Markets.

Stocks have managed to eke out gains over the past few sessions, and are up 5% for the month.

Economy: The government's weekly report on initial claims for jobless benefits is expected to show a modest uptick to 425,000, from 421,000 in the prior week.

On the housing front, government figures are expected to show that initial construction of single family homes and requests for building permits both rose in November.

Housing starts are forecast to have risen to an annual rate of 545,000, from 519,000; while permits are forecast to climb to 560,000, from 550,000 in October.

Positive economic data will likely push stocks slightly higher, according to Cook, but at this time of year trading volume is thin with so many investors packing up and heading out for the holidays. "You see big exaggerated moves and that is something traders want to watch out for."

Companies: Federal Express reported third-quarter earnings and sales that missed forecsasts. FedEx (FDX, Fortune 500) earned $1.16 a share, missing estimates by 15 cents. Revenue rose 12% to $9.63 billion but that also missed analysts forecasts, which had called for $9.7 billion.

The shipping company, which had its busiest shipping day Monday, reigned in its forecast for the current quarter but raised its outlook for fiscal 2011. Shares of FedEx slid 4% in premarket trading.

BlackBerry maker Research In Motion (RIMM) and Oracle (ORCL, Fortune 500) are on deck after the market closes.

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