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Futures Slide After Big Housing Miss

Futures skidded Thursday as disappointing reports on housing starts and jobless claims overshadowed strong earnings from Apple.

Housing starts dropped 15.5 percentto a record annual pace of 550,000 units in December, following an upwardly revised rate of 651,000 units in November. Analysts had expected a less-severe drop to a rate of 610,000 units.

Initial jobless claims jumped by 62,000 last week to 589,000. Analysts had expected just 540,000 claims.

It’s been a tumultuous month so far for the major U.S. indexes--the Dow Jones Industrial average has lost nearly 10 percent in January alone.

Futures indicated more uncertainty, with the Dow indicating a drop of 45 points or so at the open though the Nasdaq tech gauge was slightly above fair value.

Apple buoyed confidence in techs by beating earnings expectations on strong iPod and Mac sales. Shares of Apple were higher by more than 7 percent in premarket trading.

But there were headwinds as well, with Nokia earnings showing a 69 percent profit drop in the previous quarter and the company again issuing a tepid outlook for the year ahead. The news sent Nokia shares down nearly 9 percent premarket.

Staying in the tech sector, Intel said it would shut sites in Asia and reduce its presence in the U.S. The move could affect as many as 6,000 jobs, but Intel said not all of the 6,000 jobs would be lost.

But the fate of the nation's banking system continued to dictate the market's direction.

A quick burst of enthusiasm for Bank of America, generated by news that its chief executive snapped up more stock, lost some of its steam early Thursday, with shares losing more than 2 percent in premarket trading.

Similarly, Citigroup was trending lower early as the bank pressed on with its management shake up and named Richard Parsons as its chairman. Parsons will replace Sir Win Bischoff from Feb. 23.

JPMorgan Chase was among the banks trending higher, though, as its CEO also bought more stock in the company. Shares were up 2 percent premarket.

In political news, a House of Representatives panel approved key spending parts of President Barack Obama’s econonic stimulus plan, wihch the new president wants passed by mid-February.

And Caroline Kennedy withdrew her bit for the New York Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

On the earnings front, a major litigation charge saw UnitedHealthpost a 40 percent decline in fourth-quarter net earnings. But the insurer’s operating results met analysts' targets.

Meanwhile, Nokiamissed expectations with its fourth-quarter profit results. The cell phone-maker warned investors that volumes could shrink 10 percent this year.

Earnings results from Southwest Air and Union Pacific are also expected ahead of the open.

On the economic front, housing starts and jobless claims data are out at 8:30 am New York time and U.S. oil inventory figures are released at 11 am.