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Futures mixed in light trading amid data trove

September 5, 2013

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock futures were mixed in very light trading amid a flurry of reports on jobs, retail sales and the industrial and services sectors.

The numbers that roll out Thursday and Friday may determine if or how much the U.S. Federal Reserve pulls back on the asset purchases that have kept international markets flush with cash.

Dow Jones industrial futures were flat at 14,924. S&P futures gained less than a point to reach 1,654. Nasdaq futures are up 2.25 points to 3,130.50.

Before the opening bell Thursday, the Labor Department reported that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits last week dropped to a five-year low. And the payroll company ADP reported that private sector employment rose by 176,000 jobs last month.

The U.S. also reported Thursday that productivity for American workers rose at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in the April-June quarter and labor costs were flat, which tamps down concerns about inflation.

All eyes are now turning to the August jobs report, which is due Friday from the Labor Department. However, macroeconomic data this week has buttressed the view that the Fed may soon begin easing its massive asset purchases.

The beige book, a survey released by the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday, showed that all 12 of the Fed’s regional banking districts reported modest to moderate growth from July to August.

A growing number of economists believe growth and hiring are strong enough for the Fed to begin slowing its bond purchases at the September meeting.

The Fed is spending $85 billion a month in purchases of Treasury and mortgage bonds, which has kept interest rates low and encouraged more investment in the equity and housing markets.

The wildcard has been the American consumer, which still appears leery of spending much. Consumer spending drives about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

Retailers are reporting some positive numbers for August. Costco, Walgreen and The Buckle all topped Wall Street expectations for comparable store sales Thursday.

Major retailers like Wal-Mart and Macy’s have recently cut their outlooks because of lackluster sales, casting pall over the sector.

Later Thursday, the Commerce Department releases its report on factory orders and the Institute for Supply Management’s services releases its monthly index on the service sector, which employs 90 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Update hourly