Futures Dip on Jobless Claims, China Deficit

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures pointed to a weaker open Thursday as investors absorbed a larger-than-expected increase in initial jobless claims, a surprise trade deficit in China and a downgrade to Spain's credit rating.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down by 36 points, or 69 points below fair value, at 12,138. Futures for the S&P 500 were lower by 6 points, or 10 points below fair value, at 1310, and Nasdaq futures were off by 10 points, or 22 points below fair value.

Stocks finished flat Wednesday as tensions in Libya continued to weigh on investor sentiment.

Initial jobless claims gained 26,000 to 397,000, from 371,000 in the week ended March 5. The rise was larger than the increase of 14,000 to 382,000 that economists had expected, according to Briefing.com.

China reported an unexpected trade deficit in February as higher commodity prices impacted its import bill.

Moody's lowered Spain's credit rating by one notch to Aa2 on concerns regarding the cost of the banking sector's restructuring and the government's ability to lower borrowing.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng declined 0.8% and Japan's Nikkei shed 1.5%. London's FTSE was losing 1% and the DAX in Frankfurt was down by 0.8%.

Meanwhile, oil prices were easing. The April crude contract was trading $1.54 lower at $102.84.

The April gold contract was down by $11.30 to trade at $1,418.30 an ounce.

The Census Bureau said the trade deficit unexpectedly widened to $46.3 billion in January from $40.3 billion in December. The market had expected the gap to narrow to a deficit of $41.5 billion from December's initially reported shortfall of $40.6 billion.

Shares of Semtech ( SMTC) were trading 11.1% higher at $25 ahead of Thursday's opening bell after the chipmaker reported a surge in sales and said earnings gained more than 50% from the prior year.

Starbucks ( SBUX) shares were up 6.5% to $36.77 on news that it will sell single-serving Starbucks coffee and Tazo tea K-cups for use in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters' ( GMCR) Keurig brewing system. Green Mountain's stock was soaring 29% to $56.30.

Tax services firm H&R Block ( HRB) said total tax returns prepared grew 6% year-over-year through Feb. 28. The stock was gaining 6.6% at $16.20 during the premarket session.

Australian mining company Rio Tinto ( RIO) upped its bid for Riverside Mining again, to A$16.50 ($16.57) a share from its December offer of A$16. Rio's stock was down 4.1% in early trading.

Valero Energy ( VLO) is expected to announce plans to buy Chevron's ( CVX) Pembroke refinery in Wales for about $2 billion, according to a Bloomberg report. Valero shares were losing 1.8% to $27.20 ahead of Thursday's opening bell while Chevron's stock was down by 0.6% at $101.54.

At 2 p.m., the U.S. Treasury Department will release budget data for February.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was largely unchanged with a yield of 3.471%. The dollar strengthened against a basket of currencies with the dollar index up by 0.5%.

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--Written by Melinda Peer in New York.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors and reporters from holding positions in any individual stocks.

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