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Stock futures slightly up after poor holiday sales

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[March 19, 2010]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Wall Street headed for a modestly higher open Friday, cautious about embarking on a year-end rally after dreary preliminary readings on holiday spending.

InsuranceNot surprisingly, Americans spent much less on gifts this season than they did last year, according to SpendingPulse, a division of MasterCard Advisors. Retail sales dropped between 5.5 percent and 8 percent compared with last year, the data showed, or between 2 percent and 4 percent after stripping out auto and gas sales.

Personal consumption is a huge part of U.S. economic activity - comprising more than two-thirds of gross domestic product - so Wall Street is nervous that a more frugal consumer could keep the economy weak in 2009.

Ahead of the market's open, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 7, or 0.08 percent, to 8,430. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures rose 1.40, or 0.16 percent, to 866.40, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 4.75, or 0.40 percent, to 1,184.75.

Trading volumes are expected to be extremely low as they were earlier this week. When trading is light, stock movements are often not indicative of broader market sentiment. Friday is also likely to be a quiet day of trading because there are no major economic or corporate reports scheduled.


Japan on Friday reminded U.S. investors that the recession is not isolated to the United States. Japanese automakers and other manufacturers slashed their output last month by 8.1 percent - the biggest drop since records were started in 1953 - in the face of slowing demand overseas.

Wall Street got a bit of good news on Christmas Eve, however, when the Federal Reserve allowed GMAC Financial Services, General Motors' finance arm, to become a bank holding company and therefore qualify for the government's $700 billion rescue fund. Analysts had said that without financial help, GMAC might have had to file for bankruptcy protection or shut down.

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No recent news, however, has been enough to propel Wall Street on a rally. December is usually a strong month for the stock market.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices slipped.

Light, sweet crude rose $1.09 to $36.44 a barrel in electronic premarket trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In overseas trading, Japan's Nikkei stock index rose 1.63 percent. Hong Kong markets were closed, as were those in Britain, Germany and France.


On the Net:

New York Stock Exchange: http://www.nyse.com

Nasdaq Stock Market: http://www.nasdaq.com

[Associated Press; By MADLEN READ]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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