Stock futures dip ahead of jobs, sales reports

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Stock futures dipped this morning as investors paused after a big two-day rally to prepare for key reports on the jobs market and retail sales.

High unemployment and slow growth in consumer spending have been the biggest impediments to a strong, sustained recovery. So Thursday’s weekly government report on initial jobless claims and retailers’ reports on monthly sales will be closely watched to see if recent trends reverse.

Disappointing jobs reports have been piling up and helped drive stocks lower in recent weeks. Continued high unemployment has dragged down consumer confidence, which in turn has slowed spending. Consumer spending accounts for the bulk of economic activity. Without a rebound in jobs and sales, the economy is likely to continue to post only modest growth.

Early reports from retailers indicated June sales were mixed. Limited Brands Inc., which owns Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, reported sales that topped expectations. Many teen retailers saw a drop in sales last month, including Hot Topic Inc. and The Wet Seal Inc.

Economists predict initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week, but not enough to signal employers are significantly ramping up hiring. Initial claims likely fell to 465,000 last week from 472,000 a week earlier, according to economists polled by Thomson Reuters. The Labor Department report is due out at 8:30 a.m. EDT.

Overseas markets rallied after the International Monetary Fund raised its world growth estimate for the year to 4.6 percent from 4.2 percent. The climb also comes as the European Central Bank wrapped up a meeting where it kept a key interest rate unchanged. The head of the bank is also expected to discuss the strength of the banking sector in Europe. Big banks in Europe are undergoing stress tests to determine if they can handle a further economic slowdown and rising sovereign debt problems throughout the continent.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 12, or 0.1 percent, to 9,968. Standard & Poor’s 500 index futures fell 2.30, or 0.2 percent, to 1,057.00, while Nasdaq 100 index futures dropped 2.50, or 0.1 percent, to 1,787.00.

The Dow jumped back above 10,000 Wednesday after soaring 275 points. It was the second straight day of gains and the first back-to-back advance since the middle of June. Traders say the recent gains, which came after seven straight days of declines, were not tied to any one particular catalyst. Instead some investors jumped into the market thinking prices had been beaten down too much in the past couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, bond prices rose slightly Thursday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 2.98 percent from 2.99 percent late Wednesday.

The euro rose to $1.2651, its highest level since May. The common currency used by 16 European countries has been battered in recent months by worries that the continent’s economy would grind to a halt because of mounting sovereign debt in countries like Greece, Spain and Portugal.

Overseas, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 1.2 percent, Germany’s DAX index rose 0.4 percent, and France’s CAC-40 gained 1.2 percent. Japan’s Nikkei stock average jumped 2.8 percent.

- Associated Press