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Futures Fall as Job Losses Roil Market

Stock index futures headed lower after an expected change for the better in the employment picture failed to materialize.

There was widespread talk that this might be the first month in almost two years to see job growth, but the Labor Department said the economy actually shed 85,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate held steady at 10 percent.

Interestingly, the government said November actually crossed the threshold of job gains, adding 4,000 positions. But October's numbers were revised downward, and the net result for the two months was an additional 1,000 job losses than originally reported.

Futures had been flat prior to the release of the numbers. A drop in Dow futures of about 50 points eased rather quickly, but the Nasdaq was pointing towards an opening loss of more than 0.5 percent. Treasury prices headed higher while the dollar lost some ground and commodity prices recouped some earlier losses.

The other economic stats of the day won't get quite as much attention, but they will be there for the markets to consider: Economists look for November wholesale inventories to fall by 0.3 percent when that number is issued at 10 am. At 3 pm, the market gets consumer credit figures for November, forecast to have dropped by $6.5 billion for the month.

In stocks news, bank shares could be under pressure today after Citigroup cut its earnings outlooks for Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

One Fed speaker is on today's agenda, with Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker scheduled to speak at a Maryland event at 1:30 pm. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard continues his tour of China today, telling a Shanghai audience that it would be good to see improvement in the U.S. job market prior to the Fed exiting its stimulus programs.

The Chinese stock market is about to become more like the U.S. and others: the government has given approval in principle to allow stock market index futures as well as short selling.

In other China-related news, new figures show that more than 13.5 million vehicles were sold in China in 2009, making it the world's biggest auto market as it overtakes the United States.

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

And today's docket has several other pieces of auto industry news: The Japan Automobile Dealers Association says the Toyota Prius was the top-selling car in Japan last year, the first time a hybrid has ever taken that spot. And Dutch carmaker Spyker has sweetened its bid for GM's Saab unit, though there's no indication yet how GM will respond to that bid.

The dollar/yen relationship may be worth watching today, as Japan's new finance minister backs off his call for a weaker yen, after he was apparently rebuked by the prime minister for that call.

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