US stocks head for lower open

Gov't report expected to be released
March 7, 2008 5:04:58 AM PST
U.S. stocks headed toward a lower open Friday as investors awaited the much-anticipated February employment report for insight into how well the economy might be able to hold up.Unemployment remains relatively low by historical standards but an increase could set off fears of a consumer slowdown. The well-being of the consumer, whose spending accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity, is key to investors' hopes of avoiding more economic pain amid the ongoing pullback in home values and credit troubles.

Wall Street expects the Labor Department report, which is due at 8:30 a.m. EST, will show the country's unemployment rate ticked up to 5 percent in February from January's 4.9 percent, according to Thomson/IFR. Payrolls are seen as rising by 25,000 compared with a loss of 17,000 in January.

A sour reading could weigh heavily on investors. Concerns about home foreclosures and further credit woes - a string of troubles that started when debt backed by home mortgages began to go bad - rippled through Wall Street on Thursday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 215 points, while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 2.20 percent.

Early Friday, Dow futures fell 49, or 0.41 percent, to 12,021. S&P 500 futures fell 5.00, or 0.38 percent, to 1,302.90, and the Nasdaq 100 index fell 4.25, or 0.25 percent, to 1,710.00.

Bond prices rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, fell to 3.50 percent from 3.59 percent late Thursday. The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 3.27 percent after Wall Street's decline. In morning trading, Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.12 percent, Germany's DAX index lost 1.29 percent, and France's CAC-40 slid 1.10 percent.