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Stock Futures Inch Lower Ahead of Data

By Tomi Kilgore U.S. stock futures leaned lower as investors awaited a reading on private-sector job growth. European markets slipped ahead of the widely anticipated European Central Bank meeting on Thursday. About 90 minutes ahead of the open, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures fell 11 points, or 0.1%, to 16702. S&P 500 index futures eased two points, or 0.1%, to 1920 and Nasdaq-100 futures gave up five points, or 0.2%, to 3726. Changes in stock futures don't always accurately predict stock moves after the opening bell. On Tuesday, the Dow slipped 21 points, or 0.1%, to snap a three-session win streak, and the S&P 500 eased less than 0.1%, failing to close at a record for the first time in four sessions. Activity remained muted, with overall volume increasing slightly from the previous session but remaining well below the year-to-date daily average. Jim Russell, senior equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management, which manages about $120 billion, said it's difficult for investors to take a stand ahead of Thursday's ECB meeting and Friday's jobs report. "We believe the [jobs] data will continue to show that the labor market is improving," Mr. Russell said. "We're in bit of a 'show me' state," he said, as data needs to be less ambiguous. "The market is looking for definitive signs of sustainable growth." "We don't sense that the market is at a peak," Mr. Russell said. "We believe the upward grind in the market will continue to be the path forward." At 8:15 a.m. Eastern, data compiled by Automatic Data Processing and Moody's Analytics is expected to show that 210,000 private-sector jobs were added in May, down from 220,000 in April. The ADP report is seen as a preview of the government's February employment report Friday, which is expected show nonfarm payroll growth of 210,000. At 8:30 a.m., the trade deficit is seen increasing slightly to $40.9 billion. First-quarter productivity is expected to be revised to show a slightly greater decline than originally reported, while unit labor costs are seen being revised higher. After the open, the Institute for Supply Management's nonmanufacturing composite index, due at 10 a.m., is expected to be unchanged at 55.2. And at 2 p.m., the Federal Reserve's Beige Book survey of regional economic activity will be released. Earlier, the Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage applications declined 3.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis in the latest week. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note inched higher to 2.594%, after settling at a three-week high of 2.592% late Tuesday. Gold futures edged up 0.1% to $1,245.30 an ounce, after snapping a six-session losing streak on Tuesday. Crude-oil futures rose 0.6% to $103.28 a barrel. The dollar lost some ground against the euro, but edged higher against the yen. In Europe, the Stoxx Europe 600 eased 0.1% to extend a pullback from a 6 1/2-year high hit on Monday. Economic data continued to support expectations that the ECB will introduce new stimulus measures by either cutting interest rates or boosting liquidity through asset purchases. Data firm Markit said its composite purchasing managers index for the euro zone, which measures activity across both the manufacturing and services sectors, fell to 53.5 in May from 54 in April. Meanwhile, a second estimate of first-quarter economic growth was unchanged at 0.9%, in line with forecasts. "I think we are at the beginning of a consolidation phase for European equities. Most of the possible actions of the ECB are already priced in, we have sluggish earnings growth and high valuations," said Christian Stocker, an equity strategist at UniCredit in Munich. Germany's DAX 30 index lost 0.2%, France's CAC 40 gave up 0.1% and the U.K.'s FTSE 100 eased 0.2%. Asian markets were mostly lower, with China's Shanghai Composite falling 0.7% to suffer a fourth-straight decline. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average bucked the regional trend by tacking on 0.2%. In corporate news, Dow component UnitedHealth rose 1.4% in premarket trading after the insurer increased its quarterly dividend by 34% to 37.5 cents a share, and renewed its share buyback program, which authorizes the company to repurchase 100 million shares over time. Protective Life ran up 18% after Japan's Dai-ichi Life said it would buy the company in a deal valued at $5.7 billion. Tibco Software slumped 14% after the company lowered its adjusted earnings and revenue outlook for the quarter ending June 1, citing weak sales of its analytics software called Spotfire. Write to Tomi Kilgore at tomi.kilgore@wsj.com

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