Stock Futures Plunge on Mortgage Rate Hike Fears

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stock futures were plunging Thursday as Treasury yields soared and international markets weakened across multiple asset classes on concern the Federal Reserve will start moderating its U.S. stimulus measures sparking a hike in mortgage rates.

Higher than expected jobless claims for the week ended June 15 added to investor anxieties.

"The possibilities of the Fed trimming in the later part of the fourth quarter of this year is a given factor, and I suspect the markets are now adjusting to life without stimulants, which is creating an overreaction in the markets," Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital in Manhattan, said in an email.

Futures for the S&P 500 were slumping 14.25 points, or 12.53 points below fair value, to 1,609.5 as homebuilder stocks including Toll Brothers ( TOL) tumbled. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average were dropping 101 points, or 88.19 points below fair value, to 14,946. Futures for the Nasdaq were declining 25.25 points, or 21.80 points below fair value, to 2,931.

The Labor Department reported Thursday that initial jobless claims increased by 18,000 to a higher-than-expected 354,000 in the week ended June 15. Economists were predicting a rise to 340,000. The four-week moving average on initial claims also rose, up 2,500 to 348,250.

"Claims rose further than forecast and edged above our line in the sand that denotes payroll improvement," Andrew Wilkinson, chief economic strategist at Miller Tabak, wrote in a note. "The increase of 18,000 to 354,000 is taper-negative but is so granular at this point it is highly unlikely to shift the needle in the big scheme of things."

Newmont Mining ( NEM) was retreating by 3.73% to $30.71 after shares of the gold producer were lowered to "market perform" from "outperform" with a $31.84 price target by Cowen analysts, who cited valuation as the reason for their downgrade.

Rite Aid ( RAD) was slumping 1.61% to $3.06 after the drugstore chain reiterated its full-year outlook at the weaker end of Wall Street estimates. The company reported quarterly earnings of 9 cents a share, matching the consensus target.

Major U.S. stock markets turned sharply lower on Wednesday as the Federal Open Market Committee voted to maintain its current policy of buying $85 billion per month by a vote of 10 in favor and 2 against but outlined criteria which will determine when the bank begins to reduce the size and scope of its bond buying program. The Fed noted that its U.S. growth outlook has improved and suggested that it could begin winding down stimulus measures as early as this year.

Also out at Thursday, all at 10 a.m., are reports on May existing home sales, the general business conditions index of the Philadelphia Fed's Business Outlook Survey for June, and the Conference Board's Index of Leading Indicators for May.

The vast majority of international markets were in the red after the Fed announcement. The Nikkei 225 in Japan finished off 1.74% while the Hong Kong Hang Seng closed down 2.88% as selling steepened after a report showing that contraction in China's manufacturing worsened in June.

The FTSE 100 in London was falling 2.21% and the DAX in Germany was down 2.35%.

The benchmark 10-year Treasury was diving by 21/32, pushing the yield up to 2.437%. The dollar was gaining 0.63% to $81.94 according to the U.S. dollar index .

August crude oil futures were falling $1.61 to $96.87 a barrel. August gold futures were plummeting $68.10 to $1,305.90 an ounce.

In other corporate headlines, Microsoft ( MSFT) shares were down 0.52% to $34.41. The company recently held advanced talks with Nokia ( NOK) about buying its handset business, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. However, the discussions faltered over price and worries about Nokia's slumping market position, the people told the newspaper. The talks reportedly took place as recently as this month but aren't likely to be revived, the Journal said.

Sony ( SNE) CEO Kazuo Hirai told shareholders the Japanese electronics giant is taking seriously a proposal from hedge fund Third Point to spin off a part of its entertainment business but a decision won't be made quickly. Sony was gaining 1.46% to $20.79.

"This is an important proposal that will influence the future of Sony," he said. "This will take time, and we are not going to come to a conclusion for the sake of coming to a conclusion."

Written by Andrea Tse in New York

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