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Stock futures fall slightly ahead of opening

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[March 31, 2010]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Stock futures are falling slightly Wednesday as investors avoid making any big moves on the last day of the quarter and ahead of Friday's key jobs report.

InsuranceStocks have been on a near relentless climb in recent months on growing signs the economy is recovering, albeit slowly. Upbeat data such as Tuesday's report showing a modest jump in consumer confidence have given investors a reason to continue to bid up stocks.

The Dow Jones industrial average has risen in 19 of the past 23 trading sessions. It rose nearly 12 points Tuesday.

Traders Wednesday will be watching for further signs of a recovery. Economists predict a payroll company's employment report and data on factory orders will show continued improvement.

But trading could be erratic. That's because of typical end-of-quarter moves to balance portfolios. Some investors will be looking to take some profits at the end of a strong quarter.

The Dow has gained 4.6 percent so far in the first three months of the year, which puts it on track for its best first-quarter performance since 1999.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 12, or 0.1 percent, to 10,842. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures fell 1.60, or 0.1 percent, to 1,167.80, while Nasdaq 100 index futures fell 1.75, or 0.1 percent, to 1,963.75.

Volume is expected to remain light during the holiday week, which could exaggerate moves. The market will be closed on Friday for Good Friday and some traders have taken off for Passover.

Investors Wednesday will get payroll company ADP's take on the jobs market. Economists polled by Thomson Reuters predict ADP's jobs report will show private-sector employers added 40,000 jobs in March.

The ADP report is seen as an early indicator of the Labor Department's data, though there can be wide variations because it only accounts for private-sector jobs.

Investors will get the biggest jobs-related report of the month on Friday. Economists expect it to show employers added 190,000 jobs in March. It would be only the second monthly increase in jobs since the recession began in late 2007. The number could be somewhat inflated because the government hired temporary workers to conduct the 2010 census.

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Jobs growth is considered vital to a strong, sustained recovery because it will give consumers more confidence to go out and spend on goods and services. And consumer spending is the biggest driver of economic activity in the country.

A separate report Wednesday is expected to show factory orders rose for the 10th time in the past 11 months. Economists forecast orders rose 0.5 percent in February due to strong demand for commercial aircraft and machinery. Orders jumped 1.7 percent in January.

The Commerce Department report is scheduled to be released at 10 a.m. EDT.

The manufacturing sector has been one of the more consistent growth areas in the economy as the country emerges from recession. It has been stronger than other areas like the housing and jobs markets.

Meanwhile, bond prices were little changed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, was unchanged at 3.86 percent, compared with late Tuesday.

The dollar fell against other major currencies, while gold and oil rose.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.1 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.2 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.1 percent.

[Associated Press; By STEPHEN BERNARD]

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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