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Stock Futures Weaken as Europe, China See Cooling Economies

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were pointing to a weaker start Thursday amid signs of slowing economic conditions in China and Europe.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were declining 55 points, or 43.6 points below fair value, at 13,011. Futures for the S&P 500 were slipping 7 points, or 6.8 points below fair value, at 1391, indicating that the index could fall for a third straight day. Futures for the Nasdaq were off 12.3 points, or 9.7 points below fair value, at 2723.

U.S. stocks finished mixed Wednesday after a disappointing read on the housing market and bearish comments from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Europe.

Fears of a slowing Chinese economy were exacerbated Thursday as the HSBC flash purchasing managers index indicated that Chinese manufacturing activity declined sharply in March. The index retreated to 48.1 for March from February's final reading of 49.6. New orders declined to a four-month low, while an expected rebound in export orders failed to materialize.

Glum economic conditions were also seen in Europe, with more signs that the eurozone was sliding into a recession. Business activity shrank more than expected in March, according to a composite purchasing managers' index for the single-currency bloc. The index fell to 48.7 in March from 49.3 in February, according to Markit Economics, coming in below the 50 threshold that points to growth. Output as a whole declined in the first quarter

Overseas, London's FTSE was falling 0.98%, and Germany's DAX was declining by 1.51%. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei Average finishing higher by 0.40% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index closed ahead by 0.22%.

In the U.S., the Labor Department said that weekly initial jobless claims for the week ended March 17 fell 5,000 to 348,000, coming in at their lowest level since Feb. 2008. Economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected an increase in jobless claims to 354,000. The four-week moving average fell 1,250 to 355,000.

The news was doing very little for the markets.

"Most will say this is evidence of continuing improvement in the labor market, but we'll suggest that the pace of improvement seems to be stalling -- so good, but not great," says David Ader, market strategist with CRT Capital Group.

Also Thursday, the Conference Board's leading indicators report is likely to show a rise of 0.6% in February after a climb of 0.4% in January, according to economists. On Thursday, the print for the Federal Housing Finance Agency housing price index for January will be released after a jump of 0.7% was registered in December.

In corporate news, FedEx (FDX - Get Report), the package delivery giant, reported earnings of $1.65 per share for its third quarter ending February 29. Excluding one-time items, earnings were $1.55 per share and revenue was up 9% of the previous year at $10.56. Analysts expected profit of $1.35 a share on revenue of $10.6 billion. Shares were falling 1.4% to $94.47.

McDonald's (MCD - Get Report) CEO Jim Skinner will step down on June 30 and hand the reigns of the world's largest hamburger chain to President Donald Thompson. Skinner has been CEO since 2004. Thompson, 48 years old, has long been considered among the top candidates in line to succeed Skinner. He has been with McDonald's for 22 years. He will be the first African American to head McDonald's. Shares were down 0.6% to $96.15.

Lululemon Athletica (LULU) saw a rise in its fourth quarter profit to $73.52 million, or $0.51 per share, and revenue growth to $371.52 million. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters were looking for $0.49 a share on revenue of $362.42 million. Sales for the quarter jumped 29% compared to a year earlier. The athletic chain's projection for the fiscal first quarter was a range of $265 million to $270 million, also beating estimates of $257.46 million. Shares were down almost 3% at $72.

Dollar General (DG) reported that its earnings rose 31% in the fiscal fourth quarter. Profit came in at $292.5 million, $0.85 a share, compared to analysts' estimate for $0.82 a share. Revenue of $4.19 billion was slightly higher than the forecast for $4.11 billion. The company said it expects earnings of $2.65 to $2.75 a share for the year, in line with Wall Street's forecast for $2.71 a share. Shares were trading up 2.8% at $46.

May oil futures were falling $1.23 to $106.04 a barrel, while April gold futures were slipping $12.40 to $1,637.90 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was climbing 11/32, diluting the yield to 2.26%, while the U.S. dollar index was up 0.2% to $79.82.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.
Copyright 2011 Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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