Stock futures point to hold steady

NEW YORK (AP) - December 24, 2008

The Commerce Department is expected to report that consumer spending dropped 0.7 percent in November, which would mark the fifth straight month of decline.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department's tally of initial applications for unemployment benefits last week is expected to increase slightly to a seasonally adjusted 560,000 from 554,000 in the prior week.

The Commerce Department will also release a report on durable goods orders. Economists are expecting a decline of 3 percent last month, after a 6.2 percent drop in October.

Still, with many investors on vacation during Christmas week, trading is expected to be light; that could skew the market's movements. The markets were closing early, at 1 p.m. EST.

At the same time, investors may be looking to scoop up some bargains following moderate declines on Tuesday. With only four trading days left in the year, investors may be looking for a chance to get their positions in order after a year of unprecedented market turmoil.

Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 21, or 0.25 percent, to 8,409. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures rose 1.90, or 0.22 percent, to 860.50, while Nasdaq 100 index futures dipped 0.50, or 0.04 percent, to 1,184.

On Tuesday, the Dow fell for the fifth straight session, finishing down 100 points, on discouraging reports that showed further deterioration in the housing market and the broader economy. Though the Dow is well off the multiyear lows it hit in mid-November, it is still down about 4.6 percent so far in December, which tends to be one of the best months for the stock market.

In corporate news, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said late Tuesday it will pay as much as $640 million to settle 63 lawsuits over wage-and-hour violations, ending years of dispute.

Bond prices rose early Wednesday. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell slightly to 2.17 percent from 2.18 percent late Tuesday.

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

Light, sweet crude fell $1.06 to $37.92 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Markets overseas mostly declined. Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 2.37 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 0.26 percent. In late morning trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.64 percent, Germany's DAX index was down 0.21 percent, and France's CAC-40 was down 0.70 percent.


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