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03.02.2011 14:03

Before the bell: U.S. stocks were set for a flat open Thursday, as investors awaited another round of earnings and the government's latest jobless claims figures.


Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were flat ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

Stocks ended little changed Wednesday, as uncertainty about Egypt hung over the market -- two days before the government's all-important jobs report.

"People are positioning for Friday's jobs report which will be exceedingly important -- the ADP number yesterday gave some hope that the number will be good, but we also need to set up for disappointment if it isn't," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

"The situation in Egypt is also turning a bit more violent and that's disturbing for investors as well, so we'll also be keeping an eye on that to see if it will spread," he added.

All of that uncertainty is likely to muffle any big gains Thursday, said Luschini.

"I wouldn't be surprised to even see the market drift lower today -- nothing dramatic but just as a symptom of having a good couple days earlier in the week and investors just being cautious going into tomorrow's report," he said.

Economy: Weekly jobless claims data is due before the start of trading, with 425,000 Americans expected to file new claims for unemployment -- 454,000 filed in the previous week. The number of Americans filing for a second week or more is expected to decrease slightly.

Factory orders from the Commerce Department will be released after the start of trading. Orders are forecast to have dropped 0.6% in December, after increasing 0.7% in November.

The ISM services sector index for January is expected to have decreased to 57.0, from 57.1 in December.

Readings on unit labor costs and fourth-quarter business productivity are also due.

Thursday afternoon, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke will address the National Press Club in Washington.

Companies: Before the opening bell, Tokyo-based Sony Corp. (SNE) logged a 8.6% drop in quarterly profit. But the results were better than what Wall Street had expected and Sony kept its full-year outlook intact, sending Sony's shares about 1% higher.

Shares of KFC-owner Yum Brands (YUM, Fortune 500) added 3% in premarket trading, a day after the company reported strong earmings.

MasterCard (MA, Fortune 500) and New York Times (NYT) are also on deck to report their quarterly earnings for Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, the nation's major retailers are releasing January same-store sales figures throughout the morning, with more than two-thirds of retailers posting better-than-expected results so far, compared with ThomsonReuters estimates.

Shares of Limited (LTD, Fortune 500) jumped more than 4% in pre-market trading after the clothing company logged a 24% climb in January sales and boosted its fourth-quarter earnings outlook.

Shares of BJ's Wholesale Club (BJ, Fortune 500) surged 12% after the retailer said it is considering selling the company. It also said January sales rose 6.5% from the same month a year ago.

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