Futures Lower Despite Positive Jobs News

Futures pointed to a lower open on Wall Street, with investors largely unmoved by separate reports that provided some modestly optimistic news about the employment picture.

ADP said December job losses dropped to 84,000, below the 90,000 estimate and well below the November revised decline of 145,000.

In a separate report, job outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said planned layoffs were at 45,094 in December, the fewest since December 2007.

Wall Street pays attention to the ADP numbers even though they have undercounted the actual number by an average of 92,000 over the past six months, according to data from Nomura Securities.

Futures added a few points to the negative side following the Challenger report, then regained some footing after the ADP numbers.

Some slight selling pressure in Europe helped push stock index futures lower.

Another key report is out at 10 am, when the Institute for Supply Management issues its nonmanufacturing index for December. That measure of the service sector economy is seen coming in at 50.5, compared to the November reading of 48.7. That would be a significant increase if the index does indeed cross the 50 mark, the dividing line between expansion and contraction.

In stocks news, Dow Chemical shares rose 1.7 percent in premarket trading after Barclays Capital upgraded the company to "overweight" from "equal-weight."

Kraft Food shares fell 1.5 percent as the company continues in its battle to acquire Cadbury.

Kraft said it had a 1.52 percent takeup from Cadbury shareholders for its $16.8 billion hostile bid. Cadbury fell nearly 1 percent premarket.

The minutes of the mid-December Federal Open Market Committee meeting will be out at 2 pm. As usual, investors will be focused on more clues as to how the Federal Reserve might exit the extraordinary measures implemented to deal with the economic crisis, although there's been plenty of Fed commentary on that subject since that meeting took place.

And there will be a double dose of housing data at 7 am, when the Mortgage Bankers Association releases its weekly mortgage application data for each of the past two weeks. The MBA did not release the weekly data last week on Wednesday as it usually does because of the holiday.

And, with oil having increased in price for the past nine sessions, the EIA will be out with its weekly inventory data at 10:30 am. That nine-day string of increases is the longest since September 2007.

Earnings season isn't quite here yet, but we'll have a few reports of note today. Retailer Family Dollar and chemical maker Monsanto will report this morning, while retailer Bed Bath and Beyond is set to report after today's closing bell.

Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report
Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report

We'll also see if there's any market reaction to the news that two Democratic Senators, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, have decided not to seek reelection.

The retail sector could benefit from news out of MasterCard's SpendingPulse unit, which says that retailers had a strong finish to the 2009 holiday shopping season.

- Written by Peter Schacknow, Senior Producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk