US STOCKS-Futures imply lower open on weak economic data

Fri Mar 1, 2013 7:32pm IST

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* Personal income sees biggest drop in 20 years

* Banks, materials may see biggest hit on sequester

* Groupon rallies in premarket as chief executive leaves

* Futures down: Dow 58 pts, S&P 6.6 pts, Nasdaq 13 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower open on Friday, indicating a weak start to March, as lackluster U.S. and global data indicated an economic recovery that continues to struggle.

Investors were also looking ahead to U.S. government budget cuts that were widely expected to take effect at the end of the day, barring an unlikely last-minute deal. The International Monetary Fund has said that if the cuts take effect, it would reevaluate growth forecasts for the U.S. and the global economy.

Adding to concerns about U.S. growth was data showing that January personal income fell 3.6 percent, its biggest drop in 20 years.

Overseas, China's factory growth cooled to multi-month lows in February as domestic demand dipped, and euro zone manufacturing activity appeared no closer to recovery last month, as a dire performance in France offset a return to growth in Germany.

"The weakness overseas really spooked things, and that's what's directing the ball right now," said Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Wealth Management in Philadelphia, who helps oversee $115 billion in assets.

"There are also jitters, with the Dow at the doorstep of all-time highs. Given the speed of the advance we've seen, there's plenty of room for a pullback."

Equities have been on a tear lately, rising for four straight months to approach five-year highs while the Dow is now about 1 percent away from its all-time intraday high of 14,198.10. Any declines have been shallow or short-lived, with investors jumping in to seek value on any dips.

The gains have come on the back of strong corporate earnings and an accommodative Federal Reserve. In that environment, many investors have shrugged off the potential impact of the sequester, $85 billion in spending cuts across federal government agencies that economists expect will shave half a percentage point off U.S. economic growth.

Cyclical companies like banks and materials stocks, which are closely tied to the pace of economic growth, are likely to be among the hardest hit in the short term. Bank of America fell 1.2 percent to $11.10 in premarket trading while Chevron Corp slid 0.6 percent to $116.43.

S&P 500 futures fell 6.6 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures slid 58 points and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 13 points.

For the week, the Dow is up 0.4 percent while both the S&P and Nasdaq are down less than 0.1 percent. Both the Dow and S&P climbed more than 1 percent in February, slimmer gains than in January as equities grappled with uncertainties in Europe and Federal Reserve policy.

Other data on tap for Friday includes the final Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan sentiment index, which is seen holding steady at 76.3. The Institute for Supply Management's February manufacturing index is expected to dip to 52.5 from 53.1 in the previous month.

Groupon Inc gained 2.6 percent to $4.65 in premarket trading a day after the online coupon company fired its chief executive officer in the wake of weak quarterly results.

Gap Inc rose 3.9 percent to $34.20 before the bell after reporting fourth-quarter earnings that beat expectations and boosting its dividend by 20 percent, while Salesforce.com Inc posted sales that beat forecasts, sending shares up 4.6 percent to $177.

U.S. stocks ended flat on Thursday, giving up modest gains late in the session. The Dow Jones Transportation Average , seen as a bet on future growth, hit a record intraday high earlier in the session.

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