LONDON -- The Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) and the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) are expected to open lower this morning, according to futures markets, as weak data from China heightens investors' fears of a greater slowdown.
Today's economic data kicks off with the USDA Crop Report at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Traders expect bad news on the drought-stricken corn crop, which has driven up corn prices to near-record highs in recent days. Also due at 8:30 a.m. EDT is the import price index for June, which is expected to show that import prices rose by 0.1% in June after falling 2.7% in May. Finally, July's Federal budget report is due at 2 p.m. EDT, with a big increase expected on last July's $60 billion deficit.
In company news, J. C. Penney (NYS: JCP) was among the first companies to report results this morning, releasing its bad news well before markets opened. It reported a loss of $0.67 per share following a 21.7% drop in same-store sales -- considerably worse than analysts' expectations. Shares in the company are lower in premarket trading and are likely to be heavily traded when markets open.
Fears of a Chinese slowdown continue to dominate the headlines today after new figures showed that Chinese exports rose by just 1% in July compared with July 2011, much lower than the forecast 5% increase. Imports were also disappointing, with imports growing by 4.7% in July against expectations for 6.3%.
Now there is growing speculation over when the Chinese government will initiate its next round of stimulus activity, with expectations mounting that a move is imminent. Indeed, traders report that such optimism is helping to sustain markets at their current levels.
European markets were generally slightly lower this morning, as low volumes persisted and the latest Chinese figures affected trading. At 7 a.m. EDT, the DAX was down 0.6%, the CAC was down 0.9%, the FTSE MIB was 0.6% lower, and the IBEX was down by 1.1%.
In London, the FTSE 100 (INDEX: ^FTSE) was down by 0.3%. Shares in financial and mining companies weighed down the index despite a 3.4% gain from Barclays, which confirmed it has appointed an experienced new chairman, Sir David Walker, to replace the outgoing chairman, Marcus Agius.
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