Stock index futures indicated a slightly weaker open Thursday, pushed lower by further weakening in the jobs market and a sharp decrease in import prices.
The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits surged to a 26-year high last week, Labor Department data showed on Thursday, as a deepening recession forced employers to cut back on hirings.
Also, U.S import prices saw their largest monthly decline on record in November and the U.S. trade deficit widened unexpectedly in October.
In addition to the troubling economic news, the shakey status of the auto bailout weighed on investor sentiment.
The perceived success or failure of the auto bailout, "quite frankly is what's going to make or break the near-term for this market environment. We're watching history unfold," Charles Lemonides, founder & chief investment officer of ValueWorks LLC, told "Worldwide Exchange."
The proposed $14 billion bridging loan for General Motors, Ford and Chryslernow faces the Senate, which looks set to offer fierce opposition to the bailout.
The bill was cleared by the House of Representatives Wednesday after weeks of wrangling and pleas from union representatives. GM shares rose 3.25 percent while Ford was up 1.25 in premarket trading.
Futures actually were mostly in positive territory but below fair market value levels, which often indicates a negative open.
In corporate news, Dow component Procter & Gamble said it was on track to meet its earnings forecast for both the current quarter and the full year, though sales will probably be weaker than expected because of the recession.
The world's largest consumer products maker expect earnings $1.58 to $1.63 per share for the quarter through December, its fiscal second quarter, and $4.28 to $4.38 per share for the fiscal year 2009.
Investors were unhappy with the projections, though, and sent shares nearly 1 percent lower in premarket trading.
Fellow Dow component Boeing also saw its shares come under pressure after the airline said it was delaying the first flight of its highly anticipated Dreamliner 787 until the second quarter of 2009 and won't ship its first delivery until the following year.
Boeing attributed the delay to this year's machinists strike and production problems. Shares fell 2.5 percent premarket.
Also, drug makerEli Lilly projected that 2009 results would be hurt by its acquisition of ImClone Systems and weaker foreign currencies. Shares were flat premarket.
Big-box retailer Costco Wholesale's quarterly profit rose slightly as strong results from its gasoline stations helped to offset weak consumer demand for all but the most essential household items.
Meanwhile, the bleak outlook for the economy led consumers to cut their spending in November as U.S. retail sales excluding autos posted their biggest monthly drop in five years.
In political news, President-elect Barack Obama will nominate Steven Chu as his energy secretary, according to NBC News. Chu is currently director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and was a recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics.
Energy remained in focus as the price of oil made firm gains ahead of the open after the International Energy Agency said global demand would grow in 2009.