Stock Futures Hint at Mixed Open

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Stock futures were signaling a mixed start to Tuesday's session with little in the way of corporate news to drive early trading action.

The major U.S. equity indices have fallen in the past four sessions, getting the calendar second quarter off to a negative start. The unofficial start of earnings season comes after Tuesday's closing bell with Alcoa ( AA) due to report its quarterly results.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were climbing 10 points, or 9.6 points below fair value, at 12,860. Futures for the S&P 500 were up 0.9 points, or 2 points below fair value, at 1376. Futures for the Nasdaq were up 7.5 points, or 0.2 points below fair value, at 2736.

"I think there's a lot of cash to be put to work," said Dave Kavanagh, president at Grant Park Fund. "If you start to get earnings disappointments, not everyone will flee the market, but it leaves the market ripe for a pullback."

Stocks fell sharply Monday as disappointing news on job creation in March gave investors pause ahead of the first-quarter reporting season. The Dow posted its first finish below 13,000 since March 12 after the government announced that nonfarm payrolls increased 120,000 in March, far short of the 200,000 gain that economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had been expecting. The average workweek for private-sector employees slipped by 0.1 hour to 34.5 hours in March.

Alcoa ( AA), traditionally the first Dow component to report during earnings season, is scheduled to post its results after the markets close. The aluminum maker is expected to post a loss of 4 cents a share on revenue of $5.77 billion. Alcoa is struggling with lower pricing and the impact of Europe's sovereign debt woes on demand, leading to cutbacks in production.

Corporate quarterly reports will be the main source of tension in the markets throughout the week. A more important report for the broad market arrives on Friday when JPMorgan Chase ( JPM) will be the first of the big money-center banks to deliver its results.

"The bigger fear will come when the banks start reporting," said Jeffrey Sica, president and chief investment officer of Sica Wealth Management. "Most of us are on the bear side of things. Financials last quarter were disappointing and this quarter will be worse."

"The technology companies are going to have a lot of expectations because the index is up so high ... tech has a lot of expectations to meet. People will expect big numbers from other companies besides Apple ( AAPL) and Google ( GOOG) and you'll be seeing a lot of people taking profits," he added.

"There'll be significant numbers of companies who meet or exceed ... but also underlying factors that will scare investors for the current quarter," Sica continued. "It won't be so much that these companies miss estimates, but underlying caution and negative elements of the reports."

On the economic front, the Commerce Department will report February inventories and sales data at the wholesale level at 10 a.m. ET. Stockpiles at the wholesale level are expected to have risen 0.5% in February, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters, after rising a mere 0.4% in January.

Business have been restocking at a slower pace this year compared to the final months of last year, which is expected to show up as a drag on economic growth in the first quarter.

London's FTSE was declining 0.89% while Germany's DAX was retreating 0.85%. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei index slid 0.09% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.2%. This, amid the Bank of Japan's collective vote down of more monetary stimulus and China's surprise trade surplus as imports weakened to year-over-year growth of 5.3% in March compared with February's much better 39.6%, inspiring more concerns about a China slowdown.

May oil futures were slipping 56 cents to $101.90 a barrel, while June gold futures were edging up $1.90 to $1,645.80 an ounce.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was declining 3/32, pushing the yield to 2.06%, while the U.S. dollar index rose 0.2% at $79.92.

-- Written by Andrea Tse in New York.

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