By Victor Reklaitis, MarketWatch
Dow industrials, S&P 500 on track to struggle for direction
U.S. stock futures pointed to little change at the open Thursday, as traders braced for a much-discussed tariff plan that looks on track to become a reality.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign a decree that lays out his plan for levies on steel and aluminum imports this week, perhaps as soon as 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Thursday. He may spare major trading partners Canada and Mexico , according to published reports.
Read more:Trump tariff plan expected to exempt Canada, Mexico
What are the main benchmarks doing?
Dow Jones Industrial Average futures edged down by 18 points, or 0.1%, to 24,777, while S&P 500 futures inched up by 3.20 points, or 0.1%, to 2,726.50. Futures for the tech-heavy Nasdaq-100 tacked on 26 points, or 0.4%, to 6,950.50.
On Wednesday, the Dow and S&P 500 closed with modest losses , though well above their intraday lows. The Nasdaq Composite finished moderately higher, rising for a fourth straight session.
The Dow is up 0.3% for the year as of Wednesday's close, while the S&P has gained 2% and the Nasdaq Composite has tacked on 7.2%. The three gauges stand below all-time highs hit in late January, but they've also rallied from lows reached in early February, when investors were increasingly fretting about an uptick in inflation and rising interest rates.
What's driving markets?
Fears about a potential global trade war have weighed on markets this month, leaving the Dow down 0.9% so far in March.
The resignation late Tuesday of pro-trade White House adviser Gary Cohn has added to those concerns. Cohn left after failing to derail the tariffs plan. A trade war could threaten U.S. economic growth. Trading partner the European Union has lined up retaliatory action if the Trump administration imposes levies on its products.
A couple of economic data releases are due Thursday, ahead of the key monthly U.S. jobs report due Friday. A report on weekly jobless claims is due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time, with economists polled by MarketWatch expecting 220,000 claims, and then a figure for fourth-quarter household debt is due at noon Eastern.
Check out:MarketWatch's Economic Calendar
No Federal Reserve officials are scheduled to speak Thursday.
What are strategists saying?
"Despite the trade-war jab that followed the inflation/interest-rate combination, the equity markets appear eager to shake off recent worries, press forward and regain the advantage by recouping the losses incurred in the recent correction," said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA.
The bull market for U.S. stocks turns nine years old on Friday, and it appears "not yet ready to throw in the towel," Stovall said in a note. The Dow has advanced 279% from its low hit on March 9, 2009.
What are other assets doing?
European stocks were mostly rising for a fourth session in a row, as investors looked ahead to the European Central Bank's closely watched policy decision later in the day. Asian markets closed higher .
Check out:Here's the case for a hawkish tweak to the ECB's policy guidance
Gold futures and oil futures were edging down , as the ICE U.S. Dollar Index inched up.
Which stocks look like key movers?
Shares in Express Scripts Holding Co.soared 16% in premarket action after health insurer Cigna Cosaid it plans to buy the pharmacy-benefits manager in a $67 billion deal . Cigna's stock fell 5% in thin premarket trading.
Shares in supermarket operator Kroger Co.and clothing retailer American Eagle Outfitters Inc.are likely to see active trading, as they're among the companies expected to post earnings before the open.
Shares in Costco Wholesale Corp.(>> company sheet)are also likely to make moves after the retailer late Wednesday posted better-than-expected revenue along with earnings that were boosted by the U.S tax overhaul
Also late Wednesday, newspaper publisher Tronc Inc.reported earnings that missed forecasts but revenue that beat expectations, while casino operator Caesars Entertainment Corp.said it swung to a quarterly profit .
Rent-A-Center Inc.looks set for an up day after the rent-to-own company said late Wednesday it was laying off about 25% of its corporate workforce in Plano, Texas, in a plan to save $65 million to $85 million.