Before the bell: Futures point to higher start ahead of economic data

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U.S. stock futures were higher Thursday morning, pointing to a stronger start on Wall Street. Investors will likely continue to focus on the economy this morning as weekly jobs data and an inflation index is on the docket. While investors are still jittery about the economy, it is perhaps the past few downbeat sessions that has them also looking past Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ) lackluster guidance.

As expected, President Obama announced Wednesday a plan that would cost $75 billion to help about 9 million Americans on the brink of foreclosure. The lending plan aims to stabilize the worst-hit housing markets.

Despite all the different bailout and stimulus plans, the Federal Reserve warned Wednesday that the economy is in even worse shape than thought and predicted it would deteriorate throughout 2009, with no sign that the housing market will stabilize. Some of the predictions included an 8.8% unemployment rate and a full year contraction.

Overseas, following a muted day on Wall Street, and perhaps in anticipation of a better one, European and Asian markets rose modestly Thursday, despite measures taken by governments all over the world. Asian stocks were boosted by the recent strengthening of the dollar and weakening of local currencies, including the yen, which helps exporters.

Many economic indicators are due out today:
  • At 8:30 a.m. Eastern, weekly initial jobless claims will be released. They are expected to decline somewhat from the prior week.
  • At the same time, January Producer Price Index, a measure of wholesale inflation, will be reported. The PPI is expected to edge up 0.1% in January, and some are worried we could start seeing signs of deflation.
  • At 10:00 a.m., January leading indicators and the February Philadelphia Fed manufacturing data are due out. Investors will be interested to see if manufacturing in that region slipped as much as it has in the New York region.
  • At 11:00 a.m., the Energy Information Administration will release its weekly U.S. crude inventories data, and they are expected to grow further. Oil prices rose slightly to above $35 a barrel Thursday ahead of the report.
Stocks in the news: HPQ, S, UBS, WFMI, CROX, CBS, PCLN, LDK, CVS
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