NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ U.S. stock futures gave up some early gains Thursday after the government released weak economic growth data for the final quarter of 2012. Dow Jones industrial futures fell 6 points to 14,054. S&P futures rose less than a point to 1,516.20. Nasdaq futures tacked on 2.75 points to 2,743.25. The U.S. economy grew at a 0.1 percent annual rate from October through December, the worst showing in nearly two years. Economists had been looking for a revised 0.5 percent annual rate of growth. The Dow is still within striking distance of its all-time closing high, reached in October 2007, after two days of gains more than erased a 216-point stumble Monday. But the gross domestic product numbers released by the Commerce Department before the opening bell dimmed optimism about setting a record. Still, while only a slight improvement, the GDP report reverses earlier estimates that the economy actually shrank and showed a strong export economy and rising business investment. Also on Thursday, the Labor Department said that the number of people seeking unemployment benefits shrank by 22,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 344,000. The four-week average of applications dropped 6,750 to 355,000, the first drop in the less volatile measure of hiring in three weeks. Because consumers play such a crucial role in the country's economic strength, economists are watching employment trends and also the performance of retailers, who are rolling out earnings this month. A disastrous year for J. C. Penney concluded with a $985 million loss for 2012. Company shares are down 16 percent before the opening bell. Another storied brand, Sears, narrowed its losses for the fourth quarter on stronger sales and shares rose 2 percent. Shares in the Wendy's hamburger chain rose slightly after it posted a bump in net income for the fourth quarter and stood by its outlook for the year.
There has been some concern that a hike to the payroll tax that rolled out last month would cool consumer spending and Burger King and Wal-Mart have already said they've noticed a pull-back from their customers.