US Futures Slide as 'Cliff' Fears Persist

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a flat to lower open on Wall Street on Friday, as investor remained concerned over fiscal problems in Washington and turmoil abroad.

The major U.S. indexes have fallen since President Barack Obama's re-election, with fears persisting over the looming "fiscal cliff". (Read More: What Sell-Off Says About Cliff)

One of the major points of the day will be a policy speech the president will deliver at 1 pm — his first remarks since the election and likely an indicator of how conciliatory or confrontational the administration plans to be regarding cliff negotiations.

Obama will have plenty to tackle besides dealing with the tax increases and spending cuts that going over the cliff will trigger, as the market's focus now broadens beyond the political uncertainty that the bruising presidential campaign brought.

"The oxygen that this race gobbled up is now back to feeding a host of other concerns, from the U.S. fiscal cliff to Eurozone worries to seemingly countless other issues," Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx, said in his morning note. " Whether this round of grumbling is just a passing fancy or something more lasting is the only question that matters to most traders just now."

Futures shrugged off data showing that import prices rose 0.5 percent, significantly higher than the expectations for no increase, and were up primarily due to a 1.3 percent jump in fuel prices.

In an otherwise quiet day for earnings season, J.C. Penney shares plunged after the mid-market retailer reported earnings and sales that fell well short of Wall Street expectations.

The company said it lose 93 cents a share for the third quarter, against expectations of a 7-cent loss, while sales generated $2.93 billion, against estimates of $3.27 billion. Shares slumped 6 percent in premarket trading after dropping more than 8 percent for the week.

JCPenney is the "only retailer I know where: (1) online sales are not growing; and (2) online sales are far removed from brick and mortar comps," said Brian Sozzi, chief equities analyst at NBG Productions in New York. "Either way, the data says: JC Penney is not a top destination and is nowhere near becoming a top destination in peak seasonal shopping periods."

Technology shares were poised for the best performance, with Nasdaq futures indicating a flat open for the tech-heavy index.

After falling into bear market territory this week Apple shares were poised to open nearly 1 percent higher.

Earlier on Friday, Europe's biggest insurer, Allianz, posted better-than-expected earnings despite the impact of Hurricane Sandy. The German firm reported that its operating profit rose by a third to 2.53 billion euros ($3.22 billion) in the third quarter.

However, French bank Credit Agricole posted a steeper-than-forecast 2.85 billion euro ($3.63 billion) third-quarter loss, with profits hit by its exit from Greece and a series of write-downs.

In the U.S., the Commerce Department will release wholesale inventories for September at 10 a.m. New York time. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters forecast a rise of 0.4 percent, versus a 0.5 percent gain in August.

The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment survey for November is due out at 9.55 a.m. Analysts polled by Reuters expect the index to come in at 83.0, up from 82.6 in October.

Also out on Friday is the government's monthly trade report, due at 8:30 a.m. Economists polled by Reuters forecast export prices rose by 0.2 percent in October and import prices fell by 0.1 percent. In September, export prices gained by 0.8 percent and import prices rose by 1.1 percent.

European shares traded slightly lower early on Friday as doubts persisted over Greece's new bailout deal. Worries resurfaced on Thursday after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said next week may still be too early to make a decision on granting further aid to Athens.

Asian shares were also lower on Friday, despite positive data out of China. China's annual consumer inflation eased to 1.7 percent in October from September's 1.9 percent, leaving policymakers with scope to ease monetary policy further to shore up growth.

— By's Katy Barnato