Markets Poised for Flat Start

LONDON -- Markets look likely to open broadly flat on Friday. As of 7:30 a.m. EST, stock futures indicate an opening fall of 0.3% for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) and a loss of 0.2% for the S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC) . Both indexes have now fallen by more than 5% over the last month.

Yesterday's positive economic news didn't distract markets from worrying about the fiscal cliff, but today's economic calendar includes several more items that could help. At 8:30 a.m. EST, October's import price index figures are due, with no change expected after September's 1.1% rise. This will be followed at 9:55 a.m. EST by the preliminary reading of November's University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index, which is expected to show a reading of 83 compared with 82.6 in October. Finally, at 10 a.m. EST, September's wholesale inventories are due, with analysts forecasting an increase of 0.4% compared with a rise of 0.5% in August.

In corporate news, quarterly earnings reports are expected from J. C. Penney, which is expected to report a loss of $0.07 per share for the last quarter, according to a Reuters survey. Also due to report are Ameren, Warner Chilcott, Constellation Energy and Brookfield Real Estate. Shares in daily deals website Groupon were lower in pre-market trading and may fall when markets open, after the company reported disappointing quarterly results after the bell last night. Shares in could also be active after the company announced a $1.8 billion acquisition of Kayak late on Thursday.

European markets
In Europe, markets slid lower this morning as fears over Greece's problems and the fiscal cliff outweighed overnight news from China, where a surprise rise in industrial output and fall in inflation helped Asian markets pare losses yesterday.

At 7:40 a.m. EST, the DAX was down 1%, the CAC was down 0.6%, the FTSE MIB was down 1%, and the IBEX was down 1.3%. In London, the FTSE 100 (INDEX: ^FTSE) was down 0.48%, with the market supported by risers including motor insurance group Admiral Group and sugar giant Tate & Lyle. International Consolidated Airlines Group, which owns British Airways and Spain's Iberia, was also higher after announcing a restructuring plan intended to return the loss-making Spanish airline to profit.

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