Futures Off as GE, BofA Beat; Housing No Help

U.S. stock index futures struggled to find direction Friday even as General Electric and Bank of America both posted earnings that easily topped expectations and the housing market showed more signs of recovery.

BofA said it earned 28 cents a share, ahead of expectations of 9 cents, while GE posted earnings of 21 cents per share for the first quarter, versus expectations of 16 cents. (GE is the parent company of CNBC.com.)

BofA shares gained 2.3 percent in premarket trading and headed toward $20, a level the stock has not seen since Nov. 5, 2008 as the financial crisis intensified.

GE gained 2.2 percent and also neared $20, where it has not closed since Oct. 3 of the same year, even as the company's profit tumbled 31 percent. GE CEO Jeff Immelt said he saw "encouraging signs" in the economy.

In economic news, housing starts rose more than expected in Marchto their highest level since November 2008 and permits to build new homes scaled a 17- month high. The number of starts was a 20 percent gain over March 2009.

Mattel also joined the positive earnings parade, with the toymaker reporting a surprise profit of 7 cents a share against analyst expectations of a 3-cent loss. Shares gained 4.5 percent.

And Gannett also beat expectations with a 49-cent per share profit that sent the media chain's shares up 3.3 percent.


European shares were higher, but fairly subdued as mining stocks gave back recent gains on falling gold prices. Asian stocks ended in the red despite a positive close in the U.S.

Wall Street's winning streak continued Thursday with the major averages now up for six straight sessions and on the verge of completing their seventh straight week of gains.

Google's latest quarter exceeded analysts' estimates by a wide margin, but shares fell 4.8 percent premarket as investors worried over surging costs at the Internet giant.

On the economic front, the government will issue March housing starts at 8:30 am New York time, with consensus forecasts calling for a 6.1 percent gain following a decline of 5.9 percent in February. Building permits are expected to drop by 0.5 percent after February's 2.4 percent gain.

Economists are expecting an increase in the University of Michigan's monthly consumer sentiment index, out at 9:55 am. They're looking for an April reading of 75.0, compared to March's 73.6.

AdvancedMicro Devices beat Wall Street estimates with its after-the-bell earnings report Thursday. But shares dropped 3.6 percent premarket after the chipmaker said sales likely will be flat to down 5 percent in the second quarter.

Also in corporate news, Boston Scientific is resuming sales of defibrillators that had been temporarily taken off the market. The FDA has now approved the company's manufacturing changes related to the devices.

The week's heavy schedule of Federal Reserve speakers continues Friday, with Fed Governor Kevin Warsh and Kansas City Fed President Thomas Hoenig both appearing at a conference in New York.

In the news: President Barack Obama has signed an extension of jobless benefits that was passed by Congress late Thursday.

And in Europe, 17,000 flights are expected to be canceled today as an Icelandic volcano continues to spew ash into the air.

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