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U.S. Stocks Tilt Lower Amid European Weakness; Wal-Mart Rises Premarket

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02/21/2013 | 03:12pm CEST

--Stock futures tilt lower after euro zone economic weakness, steep Wednesday selloff

--Jobless claims higher than expected in latest week; CPI unchanged, or up 0.3% excluding food and energy

--Wal-Mart gains pre-market following better-than-expected earnings

 
   By Tomi Kilgore and Alexandra Scaggs 
 

NEW YORK--Stock futures tilted lower as weakness in the euro zone weighed on markets, but Wal-Mart Stores reported better-than-expected earnings.

Less than 60 minutes ahead of the open, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures slipped 11 points, or 0.1%, to 13878. On Wednesday, the Dow fell 108 points, or 0.8%, the second-biggest point and percentage decline of the year, after the Federal Reserve hinted it may end its stimulative asset-purchase program sooner than expected.

Standard & Poor's 500-stock index futures gave up two points, or 0.1%, to 1505 and Nasdaq 100 futures lost seven points, or 0.3%, to 2730.

Changes in stock futures don't always accurately predict stock moves after the opening bell.

Initial claims for jobless benefits rose to 362,000 in the latest week, more than the 350,000 expected. The consumer price index for January was unchanged on the month, and increased by 0.3% excluding volatile food and energy costs.

At 10 a.m., existing-home sales for January are expected to decline 1% to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate of 4.89 million; the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's February index of business activity is seen rising to +3.0 from January's -5.8; and the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index for January is forecast to gain 0.3%.

In corporate news, shares of Wal-Mart gained 1.9% in premarket trading after the blue-chip discount retailer reported earnings that topped analyst estimates, helping to offset a first-quarter earnings outlook that was below current analyst projections.

Among other Dow components, Hewlett-Packard declined 0.3%. The technology company reports fiscal first-quarter results after the closing bell.

European markets were broadly lower, with the Stoxx Europe 600 down 1.3%, on the back of disappointing euro-zone data and worries that the Fed may soon start winding down its asset purchases. Markit's preliminary composite purchasing-managers' index for the euro zone fell to 47.3 in February from January's 48.6, and below expectations of 48.5. Readings below 50 indicate contraction. Within the euro zone, Italy's FTSE MIB skidded 2.7% to a two-month low and Germany's DAX slid 1.8%.

The weak data sent the euro down to a six-week low against the dollar. Meanwhile, the dollar lost ground against the yen.

Asian markets also suffered steep declines, highlighted by a 3% tumble in China's Shanghai Composite to a one-month low, the biggest percentage decline seen since November 2011. Exacerbating worries about the Fed easing up on its stimulus program, China's State Council said on Wednesday that it would continue with market controls to curb increases in property prices.

Japan's Nikkei Stock Average shed 1.4% and Australia's S&P ASX 200 dropped 2.3%.

Gold futures slipped 0.4% to a seven-month low of $1,571.50 an ounce, putting them on an early track to suffer a sixth-straight loss. Crude-oil futures lost 1.5% to $93.75 a barrel. Yields on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note fell to 1.981% as prices rose.

In other corporate news, Tesla Motors shed 5.5% after the electric-car maker reported a wider-than-anticipated fourth-quarter loss and revenue that rose less than expected, as gross margin narrowed sharply.

Chesapeake Energy tacked on 1.4% after it beat Wall Street's expectations for profit and revenue in its latest earnings report.

VeriFone Systems tumbled 35% after the electronic-payments company indicated that fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue would fall well short of expectations, citing weak economic conditions in Europe and delayed projects from several major customers. It also provided a downbeat outlook for the current quarter.

Pegasystems surged 19% after the business process-management company reported much better-than-expected earnings and revenue and provided a 2013 outlook that was above current projections.

Hormel Foods reported fiscal first-quarter earnings and revenue that were in line with analyst estimates and raised its full-year earnings outlook slightly to reflect the benefit of buying the Skippy peanut-butter business last month. The packaged-food company's stock was still inactive in the premarket.

Crocs declined 3.5%; the shoe maker reported earnings that beat expectations but provided a current-quarter earnings outlook that was below forecasts.

Write to Tomi Kilgore at tomi.kilgore@dowjones.com and Alexandra Scaggs at alexandra.scaggs@dowjones.com

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