Futures Off as Market Eyes Economic Trends

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a slightly lower open Friday as investors waited for a batch of key economic data while Europe pushed on with its wave of austerity measures.

"The emphasis of the markets right now is on the risks rather then the good news that's coming out of the economic numbers," Peter Dixon, senior economist at Commerzbank, told CNBC.

European stocks were lower across the board as the tough austerity measures introduced by a growing number of euro zone countries lead to growth fears. Asian stocks ended mixed but mostly lower.

The Dow chalked up its 10th triple-digit move, either up or down, during Thursday's session. That followed a period of approximately a month-and-a-half when the Dow registered only three triple-digit moves. Despite Thursday's losses, the Dow and the S&P 500 are still on track for their best weekly percentage gains since October, with the Nasdaq likely to post its biggest percentage rise since last July.

A number of key economic reports will be out prior to the Friday session on Wall Street. The government issues April retail sales figures at 8:30 am New York time, with economists forecasting an overall drop of 0.1 percent and a rise of 0.2 percent when auto sales are factored out. In March, sales were up 1.9 percent overall and up 0.9 percent ex-autos.

The Federal Reserve will release April industrial production and capacity utilization figures at 9:15 am. Consensus forecasts call for a rise of 0.8 percent for industrial production and a factory capacity reading of 73.8 percent. In March, those figures were up 0.1 percent and 73.2 percent respectively.

The University of Michigan's monthly consumer sentiment index will be out at 9:55 am, with polled economists looking for an early May reading of 73.5 versus the final April tally of 72.2.

Finally, March business inventories are out at 10 am, with a rise of 0.4 percent expected compared with a February increase of 0.5 percent.

Retailer JC Penney will report earnings ahead of the bell. After the bell Thursday, chipmaker Nvidiabeat earnings per share estimates by two cents in its latest quarter, but retailerNordstrom and computer software makerCA both fell short of consensus.


In the technology sector, videogame industry tracker NPD reported the worst year-over-year decline for videogame sales since last July, and the fourth largest ever such decline.

And Sony shares fell in overseas trading, after the company's annual profit forecast fell short of consensus by 23 percent.

President Obama is scheduled to speak on the Gulf oil spill today at 11:50 am, as BP continues its efforts to contain the spill.

The latest hint of possible trouble for Wall Street banks is detailed in the Wall Street Journal this morning, which reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether the banks used their own money to bet against municipal bonds that they had sold.