Futures Hold Losses After Retail Sales

U.S. stock index futures continued to slump ahead of the open Friday despite news February retail sales rose in line with expectations but after a massive earthquake hit Japan, sending Asian and European shares lower and rattling investor confidence already damaged by uncertainty in the Middle East.

Retail sales rose 1.0 percent in February, up from 0.7 percent in January, the Commerce Department reported. The gain was the biggest since October, and in line with expectations of economists surveyed by Reuters.

The quake triggered a tsunamithat has already hit the coast of Hawaii, and is likely to affect the West Coast of the U.S. as well as Alaska.

After the Japan quake, shares of Currency Shares Japan Yen Trust rose slightly, although WisdomTree Dreyfus Japan Yen Fund fell.

Oil traded lowerFriday with a flight to safety expected following the earthquake that triggered a seven-meter tsunami that swept away cars and buildings. Prices also may be falling because a planned “Day of Rage” in Saudi Arabia Friday didn't appear to materalize. Protests are strictly forbidden in the country and it remains to be seen whether activists will succeed in taking their online protests to the street.

In Libya, forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi entered the oil port of Ras Lanuf and are fighting for control of the town.

U.S. light sweet crude fell below $100 a barrel, while London Brent crude fell below $113.

Companies are starting to assess the damage of the earthquake and flooding. Nissan reports there was damage at four of its plants while Toyota also stopped output at some of its plants.

In other economic news, the preliminary measure of the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index for March is out at 9:55 am. The index is expected to fall to 76.5 from 77.5 last month, Briefing.com said.

January business inventories are also set for release at 10 a.m., with a Briefing.com poll showing expectations for an increase of 0.8 percent.

In stocks news, Apple’s iPad2 goes on sale Friday, less than a year after the original iPad debut. The original iPad sold 300,000 units the first day, 500,000 the first week, and 1,000,000 in the first 28 days.

and Aeropostale will also be in the spotlight after shares in both companies fell in extended trading thurday following disappointing earnings reports.

In Europe, investors will turn their attention to a meeting of the leaders of the 17 countries that share the euro later on Friday. They will discuss the bloc’s response to violence in Libya as well as the debt crisis that has hit the region’s peripheral nations.