Before the bell: Futures remain weak despite surprise rebound in retail sales

U.S. stocks were set for a lower open Thursday morning as futures declined ahead of the release of January retail sales and weekly employment statistics.

On Wednesday, lawmakers announced they had finally agreed on a $789 billion economic stimulus measure in tax cuts and spending designed to create millions of jobs and give the economy reeling from the recession a jump start. President Barack Obama could sign the bill within days as the recovery plan is on track for final votes in the House and Senate. Obama welcomed the agreement.

As if to prove the necessity and urgency of the bill, today's retail sales numbers for January, scheduling to be released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, are expected to be the worst retail sales report in forty years, and the seventh straight monthly fall. Sales are estimated to have fallen by 0.3% in January according to, after a drop of 2.7% in December. Update: Retail sales surprised and unexpectedly rebounded in January, gaining 1% after a revised 3% drop in December. Initial jobless claims dipped down in the past week, but continuing claims reached a record high. Stock futures, however remained weak.

At the same time, weekly initial jobless claims will be reported, and economists expect claims to have dropped to 610,000 in the week ended Feb. 7 from 626,000 the week before. At 10:00 am, December business inventories are due out, and are expected to have dropped 0.6%.

Another indicator emphasizing the dire situation is the foreclosure number for the month of January that was also reported this morning. While compared to a year ago the number of foreclosures rose by 18%, compared to December, they were down 10%, in many ways thanks to efforts to stall the foreclosure process. More than 274,000 homes received at least one foreclosure-related notice last month, according to RealtyTrac Inc. Only Wednesday, a federal regulator on Wednesday urged institutions to suspend all foreclosures, while Obama's team is still trying to develop plans to keep borrowers in their homes.

And no, investors can't just stop the train, as earnings seasons is still not over. Companies reporting today include Aetna (NYSE: AET), Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO), Marriott (NYSE: MAR) and Viacom (NYSE: VIA).

Overseas, world stock markets fell Thursday, despite Wall Street's positive session Wednesday as investors seemed pessimistic about the Obama administration's plans for the the U.S. banking system and economy. Disappointing earnings in Europe and more announced layoffs -- this time from Japan's Pioneer -- also didn't help global shares.

Meanwhile, oi declined below $36 a barrel following surging crude inventories and investor skepticism over the U.S. stimulus package.

Stocks in the news: RTP, AA, VIA, KO, ATVI, DEO, TOL, SIRI, GM ...
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