* CPI, initial jobless claims data due
* Wal-Mart shares edge up after earnings
* Futures off: Dow 34 pts, S&P 4.3 pts, Nasdaq 12.5 pts
By Chuck Mikolajczak
NEW YORK, Feb 21 U.S. stock index futures fell
on Thursday, indicating the S&P 500 would extend declines after
its biggest percentage drop in three months a day earlier, ahead
of data on the labor and housing markets.
A flurry of economic data is due, which investors will
peruse for signs of economic progress, including weekly initial
jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET (1330 GMT). Economists in a
Reuters survey forecast a total of 355,000 new filings compared
with 341,000 in the prior week.
The January consumer price index is also due at 8:30 a.m.,
with estimates calling for a 0.1 percent increase compared with
an unchanged reading in December. Excluding volatile food and
energy items, CPI is expected to have risen 0.2 percent compared
with a 0.1 percent increase in the previous month.
The benchmark S&P index dropped 1.2 percent on
Wednesday, its biggest decline since Nov. 14, after minutes from
the U.S. Federal Reserve's most recent meeting suggested the
central bank may slow or stop buying bonds sooner than expected.
The Fed has used quantitative easing, or QE, since 2008 in a
bid to stimulate the economy. The policy, which involves
expanding the Fed's balance sheet to buy bonds, has been
credited with pushing money into the stock market, and its
withdrawal would remove a ballast for the markets.
"The fundamentals, while they are not terrible and they are
not degrading, they haven't exactly been worth paying up for
these stocks - just the promise of QE drove them. And it's going
to work the other way, the promise of QE stopping might do the
inverse," said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst, Fort
Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.
"What the Fed is really trying to do is to make sure the
data we are looking for today - real economic data - can take
the place of the manufactured economic data, which is the Fed
At 8:58 a.m. (1358 GMT), information services company Markit
releases U.S. flash Markit Manufacturing PMI for February.
Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a reading of 55.5
compared with 55.8 in the final January release.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc edged up 0.4 percent to $69.50
in premarket trading after the world's largest retailer reported
a larger-than-expected rise in quarterly profit and raised its
S&P 500 futures fell 4.3 points and were below fair
value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account
interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the
contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures lost 34
points, and Nasdaq 100 futures dropped 12.5 points.
VeriFone Systems Inc tumbled 36.8 percent to $20.16
in premarket trading after the credit card swipe-machine maker
forecast first and second-quarter profit that were well below
Berry Petroleum Co jumped 14 percent to $44 in
premarket trading after oil and gas producer Linn Energy LLC
said it would buy the company in an all-stock deal
valued at $4.3 billion including debt.
Later in the session at 10:00 a.m. (1500 GMT), the National
Association of Realtors releases existing home sales for
January. Estimates forecast a 4.90 million annualized unit total
in January versus 4.94 million annualized units in December.
Also at 10:00 a.m., the Conference Board releases its report
on January leading economic indicators. Economists in a Reuters
survey forecast a 0.3 percent rise compared with a 0.5 percent
increase in December.
According to Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday morning,
of the 405 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported results,
71 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, compared with a
62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four
Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies are estimated
to have risen 5.7 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9
percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.