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Stock Futures Fall as Spending Cuts Loom

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures kicked off March on a somber note Friday as a barrage of discouraging global economic data and the looming U.S. sequestration deadline involving $85 billion of automatic spending cuts weighed on the markets.

The U.S. Senate Thursday failed to find a way to avert the cuts in last-ditch attempts. Two bills, one from Republicans and the other sponsored by Democrats, didn't garner sufficient support.

President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet with lawmakers at 10 a.m. EST for more discussions about avoiding the spending cuts, but it's looking highly likely the cuts will kick in Friday night.

UBS economists expect that delayed compromise will be reached in the coming weeks, which Gareth Berry, a currency strategist at UBS, said should limit the economic fallout. "Nevertheless, they have already incorporated a 0.3% fiscal drag into their U.S. growth forecast for this year, a forecast which remains at 2.3%," said Berry.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were off 60 points, or 59.49 points below fair value, at 13,978. Futures for the S&P 500 were down 8.75 points, or 8.73 points below fair value, at 1504. Futures for the Nasdaq were down 13.25 points, or 13.23 points below fair value, at 2724.

Major U.S. stock averages dived in the final hour of trading on Thursday, reversing day-long gains, as a lower-than-expected revision in fourth-quarter gross domestic product data offset better-than-anticipated Chicago business activity and jobless claims reports.

A raft of economic data was being released Friday.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that personal income levels in January fell 3.6% after rising 2.6% the previous month. Economists expected personal income levels in January to fall 2.4%.

Personal spending levels increased 0.2%, after a downwardly revised 0.1% rise the prior month. Expectations were for an uptick of 0.2%.

Looking at inflation, the headline PCE price index ticked up 0.1% after being flat in December. It was forecast to have ticked up 0.2%.

"Bear in mind the drop in incomes are largely about the payroll tax restoration, higher taxes and importantly the accelerated bonus/dividend payments in December, so this drop is a one-off ... even if a big one," said David Ader, strategist at CRT.

The final read on the University of Michigan consumer sentiment index, out at 9:55 a.m., is expected to stay at a level of 76.3 for February.

The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing survey at 10 a.m. is estimated to have slipped to 52.4 in February from 53.1 in January.

Construction spending for January also is released at 10 a.m.

In addition, February auto and truck sales figures are due throughout the day.

The Nikkei Average in Japan closed up 0.41% and the Hong Kong Hang Seng index settled down 0.61% Friday as China's official manufacturing PMI disappointed, falling for a second straight month. Analysts think part of the decline was attributable to the long public holidays.

In Japan, headline consumer price inflation fell to negative 0.3% even after the substantial weakening of the yen in the last several months.

The FTSE 100 in London was falling 0.31% and the DAX in Germany was off 0.67% as U.K. manufacturing unexpectedly shrank in February and eurozone manufacturing PMI numbers continued to show contraction in January. The eurozone jobless rate, meanwhile, rose to a record 11.9%.

Gold for April delivery was falling $9 to $1,569.10 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, while April crude oil futures were slumping by $1.04 to $91.01 a barrel.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was increasing by 5/32, diluting the yield to 1.863%. The dollar was higher by 0.27%, according to the U.S. dollar index.

In corporate news, Best Buy (BBY), the consumer-electronics chain, ended talks with founder Richard Schulze over a deal in which he and a group of buyout firms proposed to take a minority stake in the company in exchange for three seats on the board, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Best Buy on Friday posted fourth-quarter earnings, excluding restructuring and other costs, of $1.64 a share, above analysts' estimates of $1.54 a share. Shares were advancing by more than 6%.

Andrew Mason has been removed as Groupon's (GRPN) CEO, effectively immediately, and is being replaced by Executive Chairman Eric Lefkofsky and Vice Chairman Ted Leonsis in the interim. Shares were up more than 3%.

Salesforce.com (CRM) posted a fourth-quarter adjusted profit, excluding items, of 51 cents a share, topping analysts' forecasts of adjusted earnings of 40 cents a share. Shares were jumping more than 4%.

Boeing (BA) plans to cut hundreds of workers at a South Carolina factory where it builds 787 Dreamliners, the Journal reported, citing a person familiar with the plan. Shares were down 0.52%.

Gap (GPS) said Thursday that fourth-quarter profit rose 61%, and the retailer raised its annual dividend to 60 cents a share from 50 cents. Shares were popping nearly 4%.

Revenue rose 10% to $4.73 billion in the quarter. Same-store sales rose 5%.

Palo Alto Networks (PANW - Get Report) announced quarterly results that exceeded estimates and third-quarter guidance in line with expectations. Shares were tumbling more than 5%.

Autodesk (ADSK - Get Report) shares have been upgraded to buy from hold at Jefferies. Shares were gaining more than 2%.

Aflac (AFL - Get Report) shares have been upgraded to overweight from equal weight at Evercore.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Andrea Tse.

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