Weak earnings from a bevy of big-name companies Wednesday moved stock futures toward a lower open.
Futures, which already were well below fair market value, slipped further as earnings reports continued to come out and indicated a drop of more than 1 percent at the market open, though they were well off their lows.
Recent lows could be tested on the major indexes, Ben Lichtenstein, president from tradersaudio.com, told CNBC. The sheer amount of government intervention is leading some investors to fret about the bleakness of the economic picture, he said.
Boeing badly missed expectations with a 96-cent per-share loss against expectations of a 98-cent profit; AT&T missed with a profit of 67 cents a share against an estimate of 71 cents a share; and Merck beat expectations by a penny with an 80-cent per-share profit but still fell by about 2 percent premarket.
Also, Wachovia reported a $4.8 billion loss, or $2.23 a share, against analyst expectations of a 2 cent per share profit. The number excludes impairment and expenses; the total loss was $23.9 billion, or $11.19 a share.
But the company said the losses were in line with its own expectations, and shares rebounded to unchanged after dropping 3 percent in premarket trading.
The market was still waiting for earnings from McDonald's.
Deeper losses in futures were blocked by continued enthusiasm over earnings from Apple . The tech bellwether said Tuesday that quarterly profit rose 26 percent. Even though it tempered its outlook, shares gained more than 7 percent premarket.
Adding to the gloomy outlook, Treasury Undersecretary David McCormick said the next few quarters would continue to be challenging, but the economy could start to recover late next year.
"Halloween is coming next week and everyone is afraid of the boogeyman … it's fear and rumors and hysteria, but I think for people with a steady hand and a cool head there's tremendous opportunities," Bill Spiropoulos, CEO of CoreStates Capital Advisors, told CNBC.
Stocks have been so volatile in recent weeks that a negative open can be turned around by the close. Today's session could "turn the tide and go black," Spiropoulos said.
AT&T posted a profit of 67 cents a share. An earlier version of this story mistakenly said that AT&T reported a 67-cents-a-share loss.