Stock futures veered south on Friday, whipped around by volatile oil prices and as investors braced for a key update on retail sales against a backdrop of disappointing news in that sector.
The Dow industrials barely eked out a gain on Thursday, and the S&P 500 finished flat. Equities were prevented from making gains largely due to a steep slide in Apple Inc.(AAPL) and other technology shares. A biotech selloff also weighed on the Nasdaq Composite .
The week has been muted for stocks. With one session left to go, the Dow industrials are down 0.1%, and the S&P 500 is up just 0.3%. The Nasdaq Composite is flat.
"The lack of catalysts this week have left investors without any direction. I don't think this is helped by a number of assets currently being at elevated levels, oil and U.S. equities to name just a couple," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda, in emailed comments.
The focus for Friday is split, with investors watching oil and waiting for important economic data. Crude oil prices moved lower, with West Texas Intermediate down 1.5%, as comments from Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak drew attention. He told reporters on Thursday he doesn't see the oil market balancing out until the first half of 2017, Reuters reported. Oil prices rallied Thursday after an International Energy Agency report said declines in global production will ease a crude supply glut. A reading on North America's oil-rig count is expected Friday afternoon.
The dollar and U.S. stocks took a hit on Wednesday after U.S. retailers such as Macy's Inc.(M) and Kohl's Corp.(KSS) delivered weaker earnings reports and downgraded 2016 forecasts. "Investors are wondering if the U.S. economy is really that strong if nobody is spending money," wrote Marshall Gittler, head of investment research at FXPRIMUS Europe, in a note to clients on Friday. Gittler said the market will be watching the retail sales figures for a clue as to just how healthy the U.S. economy is. "If the figures are good, the odds of a [Federal Open Market Committee] move in June -- currently only 6% -- or July, 17% -- could rise somewhat, thereby supporting the dollar," he wrote.
But disappointing retail data would probably confirm the Federal Reserve is nowhere close to an interest-rate increase, and market reaction will likely be neutral, he said.