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Stock Futures Point to Mixed Open

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[March 31, 2008]  NEW YORK (AP) -- Stock futures pointed to a narrowly mixed opening on Wall Street Monday as the market awaited the first batch of data that will give some clues as to the economy's direction in March.

First up will be the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index, a reading on manufacturing activity in the Midwest and considered a precursor to the national Institute for Supply Management manufacturing survey to be released on Tuesday.

The market will also be waiting for the ISM services sector report on Thursday and the Labor Department's March employment report on Friday. The weakening economy eclipsed the credit market as Wall Street's primary concern last week, making for turbulent trading that left the major stock indexes mixed.

Many institutional investors have closed their books for the quarter, which ends Monday, and therefore may be making few moves -- barring any surprises from the economic data or any corporate news. It has been a dismal quarter on Wall Street, with financial companies' continuing credit market losses and the flagging economy wiping out investors' appetite for stocks. While the market has seen a number of up days during the quarter, overall the first-quarter trend was sharply lower.

Dow Jones industrial average futures were down 24, or 0.02 percent, at 12,212, while Standard & Poor's 500 index futures were down 0.10, or less than 0.01 percent, at 1,318.80, and Nasdaq 100 futures were up 1.2, or less than 0.01 percent, at 1,782.0.

The market is also waiting for the official announcement of the government's plan to overhaul the regulatory structure for the nation's financial markets. While details of the plan, which gives a greatly enhanced role to the Federal Reserve, were widely published over the weekend, investors will nonetheless be listening closely when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson announces it in a speech Monday.

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In corporate news, Citigroup Inc. plans to split its consumer banking unit from its credit card business as part of a broader reorganization to cut costs and simplify the large financial institution's structure. The company suffered billions of dollars in losses from investments in poor-quality mortgages.

Merck & Co. and Schering-Plough Inc. were down sharply in pre-market trading after medical researchers said the companies' joint anti-cholesterol drug, Vytorin, failed to improve heart disease. The researchers' findings, published on the Internet by the New England Journal of Medicine, urged a return to more established treatments for cholesterol.

Oil prices were down after fears about a disruption in Iraqi exports eased; a pipeline damaged in a bombing last week has been repaired. A barrel of crude oil was down 75 cents at $104.87 in premarket trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The dollar was up against the euro and the British pound, and that helped crimp demand for oil futures. Gold prices were higher.

In overseas trading, Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock index fell 2.30 percent to 12,525.54. Stocks were also down on European exchanges.

[Associated Press; By LESLIE WINES]

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

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