(By Balachander) U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a lower opening on the Wall Street as minutes from last month's Federal Reserve policy meeting showed policy makers differed over the stimulus program.
Mini Dow Industrial Average futures fell 9 points to 13,880. The Nasdaq futures shed 8.50 points to 2,730.50. Standard and Poor's 500 futures retreated 2.60 points to 1,505.50.
On Wednesday, U.S. stocks ended on a sharply lower note as investors weighed minutes from the Fed. Most participants commented that the Committee's asset purchases had been effective in easing financial conditions and helping stimulate economic activity. However, many voiced concerns about potential costs and risks arising from further asset purchases, minutes of the Fed's January 29-30 policy-setting committee meeting showed. Several participants emphasized that the Committee should be prepared to vary the pace of asset purchases.
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On the U.S. data front, a report showed that core consumer price index rose 0.3 percent and the headline index was unchanged in January. Economists expected the core reading to rise 0.2 percent and the headline index to increase 0.1 percent.
The number of Americans who continued to receive jobless benefits rose more than forecast last week, a government data showed. Jobless claims rose 20,000 to 362,000 for the week ended Feb. 16 from a revised 342,000, while economists projected 355,000 applications.
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At 10 am ET, the National Association of Realtors may report that existing home sales for January fell to 4.90 million from 4.94 million. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve Manufacturing Index is expected to show a reading of a positive 1.0 for February from a negative 5.8 in January. The Conference Board's leading economic indicators index for January is expected to rise by 0.3 percent last month.
In European news, eurozone purchasing managers' index declined to a three-month low of 47.3 in February from 48.6 in January, flash estimate from Markit Economics showed, pointing the region's economic downturn deepened.
Hot Stocks Of The Day: WMT, CHK, TSLA, PAY, BRY, LCC, CROX, GENT
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) rose 1.16 percent in premarket after the world's largest retail chain store operator posted higher earnings and revenue for the fourth quarter driven by gains in comparable store sales and the Dow component raised its fiscal year 2014 dividend by 18 percent to $1.88 per share.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) added 1.78 percent in premarket after the natural gas and oil explorer posted quarterly earnings that beat Wall Street expectations.
Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) lost 6.05 percent in premarket after the maker of electric vehicles reported a wider quarterly loss due to higher costs and expenses.
VeriFone Systems Inc. (NYSE: PAY) tumbled 35.40 percent in premarket after the San Jose, California-based secure electronic payment services company offered a downbeat earnings forecast, citing weakness in Europe.
Berry Petroleum Co. (NYSE: BRY) surged 21.02 percent in premarket after the company agreed to be acquired by Linn Energy LLC (NASDAQ: LINE) for $4.3 billion in stock including debt. LINE shares advanced 3.66 percent.
US Airways Group Inc. (NYSE: LCC) gained 2.48 percent in premarket after JPMorgan upgraded the stock to "Overweight" from "Neutral".
Crocs Inc. (NASDAQ: CROX) declined 2.81 percent in premarket after footwear maker issued a weak forecast.
Gentium S.p.A. (NASDAQ: GENT) plunged 41.32 percent in premarket after the Italian biopharmaceutical company said it expects an opinion recommending against approval of the Marketing Authorization Application for Defibrotide from the European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP).
European markets traded sharply lower, with Germany's DAX falling 1.77 percent to trade at 7,593.24. France's CAC40 dropped 1.80 percent to trade at 3,642.93. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 declined 1.62 percent to trade at 6,292.32.
Asian markets ended in red, tracking global cues. The Shanghai Composite Index plunged 2.97 percent to end at $2,325.95. Japan's Nikkei 225 retreated 1.39 percent to end at 11,309.13. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 1.72 percent to close at 22,906.67. India's Sensex closed at 19,325.36, down 1.62 percent.
Commodity & Currency Scan
Ahead of the opening bell, crude oil futures traded 1.42 percent lower at $93.87 per barrel. Gold futures fell 0.51 percent to $1,569.90 per ounce.
In the currency market, the euro slid 0.69 percent against the U.S. dollar to 1.3192, while the British pound rose 0.16 percent to 1.5259. The dollar dropped 0.43 percent against the Japanese yen at 93.1700.