US STOCKS-Wall St set for flat open after jobless claims, data on tap

Last Updated: Thu, Mar 21, 2013 13:30 hrs

* U.S. jobless claims rise in latest week

* Existing home sales, Philly Fed business survey on tap

* Brokerages cut price targets on Oracle after Q3 miss

* Futures: S&P flat; Dow up 11 pts; Nasdaq off 5 pts

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, March 21 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set for a flat open on Thursday as jobless claims last week were in line with expectations and investors awaited data on housing and regional manufacturing.

A solution to Cyprus's financial "mess" kept investors cautious.

The latest data on the domestic jobs market showed the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits edged higher last week, but a trend reading dropped to its lowest in five years and pointed to healing in the labor setor.

Monthly data on sales of existing homes and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's business activity index are due at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT).

"Overseas markets are weak so we are probably going to start off a little weak too, but when we get our data shortly after the open, the market is likely to play a bit of catch up," said Jack DeGan, chief investment officer of Harbor Advisory.

"The overall market trend continues to be up based on the fact that our economy is stronger than expected."

European shares fell as disappointing German data suggesting Europe's largest economy would eke out meagre growth this quarter, made investors already nervous about Cyprus's debt crisis, though some analysts expected losses to be short-lived.

Oracle Corp shares were sharply off in premarket trade, down nearly 8 percent, after a number of brokerages cut their price target on the company.

The world's No. 3 software maker blamed its rapidly expanding salesforce for a severe miss in third-quarter software sales and warned that its ailing hardware business will lose more ground this quarter. The company reported results late Wednesday.

J.C. Penney Co Inc said in an annual report filed on Wednesday that fixing its performance could take more time than it initially believed and suggested that any change in its strategy could be expensive. The stock was up 1.1 percent in premarket trade.

S&P 500 futures were flat and in line with 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 were up 11 points while Nasdaq 100 futures fell 5 points.

The European Central Bank gave Cyprus until Monday to raise billions of euros to clinch an international bailout or face losing emergency funds for its banks.

Euro zone finance officials acknowledged being "in a mess" over Cyprus and discussed imposing capital controls to insulate the region from a possible collapse of the Cypriot economy

Cyprus's leaders were locked in talks on a "Plan B" to try to raise 5.8 billion euros demanded by the EU under a 10 billion euro ($13 billion) rescue, after angry lawmakers threw out a tax on deposits.

Blackstone Group LP, which is weighing an offer for Dell Inc, is making an aggressive push to recruit Oracle Corp President Mark Hurd to be chief executive of the world's No. 3 PC maker, a person familiar with the situation said on Wednesday.

Raymond James Financial warned on Wednesday that its capital markets business so far this year is performing below expectations and that clients of its core retail brokerage sector are not rushing back into the stock market.

Visa Inc Chief Executive Charlie Scharf suggested on Wednesday that the payment network may impose a fee on digital wallet operators like PayPal, following rival MasterCard Inc . Shares of eBay Inc, owner of PayPal, the largest such operator, have been hit hard on concerns other payment networks may roll out similar fees.

Boeing Co plans to conduct two flight tests of its revamped 787 battery system, possibly as soon as the end of the week, according to three sources familiar with the matter. The 787 flights, the first since February, would mark another step toward Boeing's recently announced goal of returning the grounded jet to service in a matter of weeks, not months.

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