U.S. futures dropped ahead of the open Thursday after Wal-Mart posted a 1.1 percent rise in third-quarter U.S. sales that nonetheless left investors disappointed.
The market's mood improved a bit after the Labor Department said jobless claims fell for the second week in a row to 502,000, suggesting continued gradual improvement in the economy. Dow futures shaved about 20 points from their morning lows, but the market was still likely to open on the down side.
Wal-Mart shares fell nearly 1 percent in premarket trading on market worries that the world's biggest retailer could miss fourth-quarter profit expectations.
Jitters over retail sales heading into the holidays also were reflected in earnings from Kohl's, which reflected Wal-Mart's in that the retailer beat third-quarter expectations but looks set to fall short in the year's final reporting period. Kohl's slipped 0.6 percent premarket.
Volume is becoming noticeably lighter on Wall Street in recent days, but that hasn't derailed the generally bullish tone for stocks over the past week or so.
The Dow is coming off its sixth straight day of gains, and both the Dow and S&P 500 had their highest closes Wednesday since October 3, 2008.
The week has been notably light on economic stats, but we do have a key report at 8:30 am New York time, as the Labor Department releases its weekly look at jobless claims. Economists expect the claims number to come in at 510,000, which would be a small drop from last week's reading of 512,000.
The government's monthly budget statement will be released at 2 pm New York time.
And the dollar could be active after more comments from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. Geithner told CNBC at the APEC meeting in Singapore that a strong dollar is important to global stability — reiterating the Treasury's strong-dollar policy.
- US Will Borrow Less as Banks Pay Back Funds: Geithner
He also said the US is likely to borrow less than first thought, with the government expecting significant repayments of public funds with interest.
In other early news, U.S. mortgage applications pushed higher last week.
The weekly report on oil inventories will be out at 11 am New York time, delayed a day by the Veteran's Day holiday.
The Treasury Department is auctioning 30-year Treasury bonds, with results available shortly after 1 pm New York time.
Urban Outfitters also will be out with their quarterly reports before the opening bell.
Dow component Walt Disney reports after the closing bell, as does retailer Nordstrom .
Applied Materials will be a stock to watch, after it beat expectations with its latest earnings and announced it would cut up to 1,500 jobs over the next 18 months.
3Com will surge following news that Hewlett-Packard is acquiring it for $2.7 billion in cash. The deal values 3Com at a 39 percent premium to its Wednesday close.
President Obama will have a short statement on the economy at 9:15 am New York time before leaving on a trip to Asia.
— Peter Schacknow, Senior Producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk, contributed to this report.