Ahmed Elbatrawy

Investors optimistic ahead of economic data

u.s. stock futures, premarkets

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Investors are gearing up for a big batch of economic data Thursday, including reports on jobless claims and U.S. manufacturing.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), SP 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were up between 0.1% and 0.3% ahead of the opening bell. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

On Wednesday, the Fed chief faced the House Financial Serves Committee — and what he had to say wasn’t exactly rosy. Bernanke failed to provide hope that the Fed would continue to offer monetary support to the market, sending U.S. stocks modestly lower.

Thursday morning, investors digested mixed signals out of China. China’s official purchasing managers’ index rose to 51 in February from 50.5 the prior month, suggesting that the manufacturing sector is expanding — albeit slowly.

But HSBC’s PMI edged up to only 49.6, an indication manufacturing activity is continuing to contract and that China’s economy remains in a fragile state.

Meanwhile, worries about the European debt crisis continue to loom in the background. European leaders will gather in Brussels Thursday for a two-day summit to determine the size of their financial firewall, and to discuss the details of a pact on fiscal discipline.

Euro-area officials tentatively approved a second €130 billion bailout for Greece last week, and the European Central Bank announced Wednesday that it loaned €529.5 billion to European banks through a second long-term refinancing operation.

The close watch on the global oil market and rising gas prices continues Thursday, as gas prices maintain its steady climb for the 23rd straight day to $3.74 a gallon.

Stocks ended slightly lower Wednesday, as investors weighed a mix of positive U.S. economic reports with testimony from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, suggesting the end of intervention to boost the market.

World markets: European stocks were higher in morning trading. Britain’s FTSE 100 (UKX) added 0.5%%, the DAX (DAX) in Germany gained 0.5% and France’s CAC 40 (CAC40) ticked up 0.3%.

Asian markets ended lower. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) slid 0.1%, while the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong dropped 1.4% and Japan’s Nikkei (N225) lost 0.2%.

Economy: Initial jobless claims for the week ended February 25 are expected to total 355,000, up from 351,000 the week prior, according to a survey of analysts by Briefing.com.

The February edition of the ISM Manufacturing Index is expected to stand at 54.7, up from 54.1 the month prior.

Reports on personal income and spending, construction spending and auto sales are also on tap.

Personal income and spending for January are expected to have increased by 0.4% each, while construction spending for January is expected to tick up by 1.0%.

Companies: Corporate results will come in the morning from firms including grocery chain Kroger (KR, Fortune 500), fast food chain Wendy’s (WEN) and fashion label Kenneth Cole (KCP).

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Kroger to report quarterly earnings of 49 cents a share on $21.4 billion in revenue.

Wendy’s is expected to post earnings of 3 cents a share on $609 million in revenue, while Kenneth Cole is expected to report earnings of 28 cents a share on $126 million in revenue.

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Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Oil for April delivery rose 38 cents to $107.45 a barrel.

Gold futures for April delivery increased $6.20 to $1,717.50 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 2.01% from 1.98% late Wednesday.  To top of page

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Ahmed Elbatrawy