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Stock Futures Flat After Three-Day Rally

By Tomi Kilgore and Tommy Stubbington U.S. stock futures were little changed early Thursday, as investors paused after a sharp three-day rally to digest mixed earnings reports from a number of high-profile companies. About 90 minutes ahead of the open, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures slipped 10 points, or 0.1%, to 16321. S&P 500 index futures were virtually unchanged at 1853 and Nasdaq-100 futures tacked on six points, or 0.2%, to 3508. Changes in stock futures don't always accurately predict stock moves after the opening bell. On Wednesday, the Dow rallied 162 points, or 1%, to cap the biggest three-day point and percentage gain since Dec. 18, after closing last Friday at a two-month low. The technology-oriented Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 1.3% on Wednesday, and 2.2% during the last three sessions. Dan McMahon, director of equity trading at brokerage firm Raymond James, said what set the tone for Thursday was some of the disappointing results from technology bellwethers after Wednesday's close. "It is all about earnings. There will be a focus on the tech sector," which has bounced back sharply this week, Mr. McMahon said. "Otherwise, it is a Thursday before a long weekend, so overall, it should be a quiet day." The stock market is closed Friday for Good Friday. Google fell 1.5% in premarket trading after reporting late Wednesday earnings that missed analyst estimates, as the amount advertisers pay per click continued to decline. And Dow component International Business Machines slumped 4.4% after the technology giant's first-quarter earnings matched estimates but revenue declined more than expected amid continued declines in hardware sales. Also in the Dow, Goldman Sachs gained 1.9% after the investment bank's first-quarter earnings and revenue declined from year-ago levels, but exceeded analyst forecasts. General Electric rose 1.7% as first-quarter operating earnings fell, but topped analyst estimates amid strength in its industrial business. DuPont slipped 0.3% after missing earnings and revenue forecasts, and American Express was little changed after beating earnings estimates but missing on revenue. Elsewhere, Morgan Stanley rallied 3% after exceeding earnings and revenue forecasts, helped by strength in its trading business. Despite the recent volatility, benchmark stock indexes remain close to record highs. The S&P 500 closed Wednesday just 1.5% below its April 2 record high of 1890.90. The Nasdaq Composite, which had been hit the hardest in recent weeks amid a selloff in previously highflying biotechnology and newer Internet stocks, had lost 8.2% from a 14-year high on March 5 through last week until bouncing this week. "The market had pulled back, but it wasn't frenzied selling. It was just people taking money off the table," Mr. McMahon said. "People were having a tough time finding value. And buyers were just being very passive." This week's rebound was a result of buyers starting to find some value after the pullback, according to Mr. McMahon. At 8:30 a.m. Eastern, initial claims for jobless benefits in the latest week are expected to rise to 315,000 from an original estimate of 300,000 the week before. After the open, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's index of manufacturing activity for April is seen ticking up to 10.0 from 9.0 in March. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note ticked up to 2.648% from 2.637% late Wednesday. Gold futures eased 0.2% to $1301.60 an ounce, while crude-oil futures lost 0.2% to $103.57 a barrel. The dollar lost some ground against the euro and the yen. European markets eased, with the Stoxx Europe 600 slipping 0.1% after posting the biggest one-day percentage gain in six weeks on Wednesday. Germany's DAX 30 index slipped 0.1%, France's CAC 40 ticked up 0.1% and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 added 0.1%. An escalation of hostilities in Ukraine kept investors on edge ahead of the long holiday weekend. The Ukrainian government is set to engage in its first direct talks with Moscow at a meeting with envoys from the U.S. and European Union in Geneva later Thursday. The talks will come after violent confrontations between military and pro-Russian protesters overnight left three protesters dead and 13 wounded. "I think investors are quite cautious because of tensions between Russia and the West," said Christian Stocker, an equity strategist at UniCredit. "We hope that the meeting in Geneva will give some hints as to whether stronger sanctions against Russia are likely." Asian markets were mixed. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average was little changed, pausing after a 3% run-up in the previous session, while China's Shanghai Composite gave up 0.3%. Write to Tomi Kilgore at tomi.kilgore@wsj.com and Tommy Stubbington at tommy.stubbington@wsj.com

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