(By Balachander) U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a modestly lower opening on the Wall Street as investors awaited the latest minutes of Federal Reserve meeting and weighed a soft weekly jobless claims data.
Mini Dow Industrial Average futures shed 21 points to 13,310. The Nasdaq futures lost 3 points to 2,735.75. Standard and Poor's 500 futures fell 2.10 points to 1,455.
On Wednesday, U.S. stocks rallied on the first trading day of 2013 after lawmakers in Washington reached an agreement to avert the "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts. The fiscal cliff bill, known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA) of 2012, was passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the Senate on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama will sign the legislation that raises taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans while preventing a middle-class tax hike that could have sent the economy back into recession, The White House said.
On the domestic economic front, the number of Americans who continued to receive jobless benefits unexpectedly increased last week, a government data showed. Jobless claims rose 10,000 to 372,000 for the week ended Dec. 29 from a revised 362,000, while economists projected 355,000 applications.
Another report showed U.S. economy added more private sector jobs than expected in December. According to the ADP National Employment Report in collaboration with Moody's Analytics, U.S. private sector added 215,000 jobs last month, versus economists expectations of an addition of 133,000 jobs and a revised 148,000 jobs in November.
"Businesses even became somewhat more aggressive in their hiring at year end. Most encouraging is the revival in construction jobs, although the December gain was likely lifted by rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy, said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics.
The keenly-awaited Labor Department's non-farm payrolls data and unemployment rate are due on Friday.
At 2 p.m. ET, the Federal Reserve will release the minutes of its December 11-12 policy-setting committee meeting.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: FDO, BIIB, GPS, CSCO, GGP, MLNX, SPWR, LNDC
In corporate news, Family Dollar Stores Inc. (NYSE: FDO) tumbled 8.26 percent after the operator of self-service retail discount stores reduced its full-year forecast and posted flat quarterly earnings amid contraction of margins due to stronger sales of lower-margin consumables.
Biogen Idec Inc. (NASDAQ: BIIB) retreated 6.40 percent in premarket after the biotechnology company said it will discontinue development of dexpramipexole in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) after a late-stage trial failed to show efficacy in primary and key secondary endpoints.
Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) advanced 1.08 percent in premarket. RBC Capital Markets raised rating on the stock to "outperform" from "sector perform".
Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) added 5.04 percent in premarket after the retailer said comparable store sales for December grew 5 percent and announced the acquisition of Intermix Holdco Inc. for about $130 million in cash. Gap also said its board approved a new $1 billion share repurchase authorization.
General Growth Properties Inc. (NYSE: GGP) shed 3.24 percent in premarket. Brookfield Asset Management Inc. acquired the GGP warrants held by affiliates of Pershing Square Capital Management.
Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ: MLNX) slumped 17.14 percent after the Israel-based fabless semiconductor company reduced its revenue guidance for the fourth quarter.
SunPower Corp. (NASDAQ: SPWR) surged 16.64 percent in premarket. Lazard Capital upgraded rating on the stock to "buy" from "neutral".
Landec Corp. (NASDAQ: LNDC) gained 7.94 percent in premarket after the polymer technology company lifted uts revenue forecast for the full year 2013.
European markets traded lower, with Germany's DAX down 0.43 percent to trade at 7,745.21. France's CAC40 dropped 0.75 percent to trade at 3,705.97. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 edged 0.05 percent lower to trade at 6,024.75.
Among Asian markets, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index advanced 0.37 percent to end at 23,398.60. India's BSE Sensex ended at 19,764.78, up 0.26 percent. China's Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index and Japan's Nikkei 225 were shut for holidays.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Ahead of the opening bell, crude oil futures lost 0.31 percent to $92.83 per barrel. Gold futures declined 0.70 percent to $1,677.30 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro fell 0.70 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3094, and the British pound dropped 0.60 percent to 1.6158. The dollar slipped 0.34 percent against the Japanese yen to 87.0400.