Futures Head Lower on Economic Weakness

Stock index futures turned negative after government reports showed jobless claims gaining more than expected last week and retail sales much slower during the holidays than expected.

The government said 444,000 jobless claims were filed last week, while sales at US retailers fell 0.3 percent in December despite forecasts that they would grow.

Dow futures shaved about 30 percents after indicating a mildly positive opening. The dollar lost its earlier gains, while Treasurys added to positive numbers from earlier.

There was one remaining business indicator on the calendar, with the weekly report on natural gas inventories is also on the calendar, at 10:30 am.

As earnings season kicks into high gear over the next few weeks, investors await quarterly numbers from Dow component Intel after the closing bell today. Analysts are expecting Intel to earn 30 cents a share.

Investors were expressing some optimism about the stock, sending shares up 0.7 percent in premarket trading. Techs overall were the weakest group early, with futures indicating a slightly negative open for the Nasdaq.

That will be followed tomorrow morning by earnings from JPMorgan Chase, so the market already has a good idea of what may drive Wall Street during Friday's session.

Financials more broadly will be in focus as the White House releases details of its plans to charge fees related to the industry's bailout and the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Bank stocks edged lower premarket.

Health-care stocks also could be active today, as President Obama and Democratic leaders announced late Wednesday that they made "significant progress" towards a final agreement on a health reform bill. The Democrats are trying to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.

The President is also announcing details on the so-called "bank tax" designed to cover TARP program losses.

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

Dow component IBM could get a boost, on news that Panasonic has hired it to run a Web-based e-mail system for Panasonic's entire workforce of 380,000. The contract is the industry's largest "cloud computing" pact to date.

RealtyTrac reports that foreclosures shattered prior records in 2009 with 2.8 million notices, and the record is expected to be broken again this year.

The Treasury will sell $13 billion in 30-year bonds today, and the results will be available shortly after 1 pm.

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