US STOCKS-Futures edge higher as data awaited

Last Updated: Thu, Aug 16, 2012 12:20 hrs

* Wal-Mart falls after earnings

* Initial claims, housing starts, Philly Fed on tap

* Facebook lockup ends

* Futures up: Dow 15 pts, S&P 1.8 pts, Nasdaq 1.5 pts

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Aug 16 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures edged higher on Thursday ahead of data on the housing and labor markets as well as a regional manufacturing report.

At 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT) investors will look to first-time claims for jobless benefits for the week ended Aug. 11 for clues on the health of the labor market. Economists forecast a total of 365,000 new filings, compared with 361,000 in the prior week.

Also at 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT) the Commerce Department releases housing starts and permits for July. Economists forecast a 757,000 annualized rate in July, versus 760,000 in June. Recent data has hinted at a housing market that has hit a bottom and may be showing signs of recovery.

"The accumulation of the data points, combined with second- quarter earnings, (mean) the trend has actually been downward. People have to come to grips with that, you can't be in denial about that - the economy is slowing," said Keith Bliss, senior vice-president at Cuttone & Co in New York.

"So we will be watching that to lay the groundwork for September."

The S&P capped off its longest win streak since December 2010 on Aug. 10, boosted by expectations for more stimulus from central banks in the United States and euro zone to stimulate their respective economies in September.

But the index has stalled in more recent sessions, unable to convincingly break above the 1,405 level, which has acted as a stiff resistance point.

"Although the deconstruction of the euro zone is still upon us, nothing has really been solved over there so I can't wait until after Labor Day when they come back and start telling us how good or bad things are over there again. The bad news is that it left our markets in a pretty complacent situation," said Bliss.

Cisco Systems Inc rose 5.9 percent to $18.38 in premarket trading after the world's largest network equipment maker offered little hope that dire economic conditions in Europe would come to an end any time soon but announced a 75 percent dividend hike and posted quarterly results that beat estimates.

Wal-Mart shed 3.4 percent to $71.90 in premarket trade as the world's largest retailer posted a bigger-than-expected jump in quarterly profit but forecast full-year earnings that could fall short of Wall Street expectations.

Facebook Inc dipped 2 percent to $20.77 before the opening bell. Shares are set to hit the market Thursday after a lockup period, preventing some insider sales, comes to an end.

Later in the session at 10:00 a.m. (1400 GMT), the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank releases the August business activity survey. Economists forecast a reading of -5.0, versus -12.9 in July. A report from the New York Federal Reserve on Thursday showed factory activity in New York state contracted in August for the first time since October 2011.

S&P 500 futures rose 1.8 points and were above 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 gained 15 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 1.5 points.

Retailer Sears Holdings Corp reported a quarterly loss in line with Wall Street estimates as lower expenses offset weak sales.

Applied Materials forecast current-quarter revenue below expectations and its chief executive hinted the top chip-gear maker could shed poorly performing non-core businesses. Its shares fell 4.41 percent to $11.28 in premarket trade.

Dollar Tree fell 6 percent to $47 in light premarket trade after the discount retailer posted second-quarter earnings and gave its outlook for the third-quarter and full-year.

S&P 500 companies scheduled to post results on Thursday include GameStop Corp, Gap Inc and Ross Stores Inc.

With earnings season winding down, Thomson Reuters data shows that of the 463 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings through Wednesday morning, 67.6 percent beat analysts' expectations, about the same rate as over the past four quarters.

European shares edged marginally lower in quiet trade as the recent rally lost steam waiting for central banks to act to boost growth and with China warning overnight its trade outlook for 2012 was worsening. [.EU}

Asian shares inched higher but gains were limited as investors waited for more clues over the timing and extent of any further stimulus to tackle the euro zone's debt crisis and support global growth.

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