Friday, December 26, 2008

Wall Street to ease back from holiday

Wall Street looked to open higher as investors return to work Friday after the Christmas break, even with the retail sector in focus after a report showed disappointing holiday sales.

At 6:30 a.m. ET, Dow, Nasdaq and S&P futures were slightly higher with a comparison to fair value, suggesting an small early gains for Wall Street.

U.S. markets were closed Thursday, but will remain open for a full day of trading. Activity was expected to be limited as many market participants take an extended break.

Stocks rose moderately Wednesday in a thinly traded session before the holiday after a rebound in bank stocks and shares of automaker General Motors (GM, Fortune 500), which has been hammered over the past several weeks.

Asian stocks ended mixed, with Tokyo's Nikkei index up 1.6%. Some of the region's markets were closed for an extended holiday, as were European markets.

Poor economic data have haunted the holiday week, with jobless claims rising to a 26-year high and personal spending declining. There are no major economic reports on tap Friday.

Holiday sales: The first post-Christmas report on the holiday shopping period (Nov. 1 to Dec. 24) was not promising, with a report from MasterCard Worldwide unit SpendingPulse showing sales excluding gasoline down as much as 4% compared to last year.

The report called the 2008 "one of the most challenging holiday shopping seasons in decades." The weak natonal economy was primarily to blame, with some bad weather throughout the nation during the final week adding to the disappointment.

SpendingPulse said the apparel, electronics and luxury sectors were especially hard-hit this season.

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