* IMF to reevaluate U.S. growth forecast if no budget deal
* Banks, materials may see biggest hit on sequester
* Groupon rallies in premarket as chief executive leaves
* Futures down: Dow 33 pts, S&P 5.5 pts, Nasdaq 9 pts
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, March 1 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures were
lower on Friday, indicating a weak start to the month of March
as investors looked ahead to U.S. government budget cuts that
were widely expected to take effect at the end of the day.
* Equities have been on a tear lately, rising for four
straight months to approach five-year highs while the Dow
climbed to within striking distance of an all-time high. Any
declines have been shallow or short-lived, with investors
jumping in to buy on any dip.
* 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.
* The cuts will take effect just before midnight Friday
unless there is a last-minute deal, which is considered
* The International Monetary Fund said that if the cuts take
effect, it would have to reevaluate its growth forecasts for the
U.S. and the global economy.
* Cyclical companies like banks and material stocks, which
are closely tied to the pace of economic growth, are likely to
be among the hardest hit in the short term.
* S&P 500 futures fell 5.5 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 33
points and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 9 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.
* Groupon Inc gained in premarket trading a day
after the online coupon company fired its chief executive
officer in the wake of weak quarterly results.
* In earnings news, Gap Inc reported fourth-quarter
earnings that beat expectations and boosted its dividend by 20
percent, while Salesforce.com Inc posted sales that
topped consensus forecasts.
* 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.