Stocks are drifting lower as traders brace for key employment data this morning.
The S&P 500 is down by less about one-quarter of a percent, tracking similar declines in Europe. Asian markets were modestly higher overnight after the S&P 500 closed near its highs yesterday.
The index fell between mid-October and mid-November, rebounded quickly and has been trading in a tight range over the last two weeks as investors await resolution of the so-called fiscal cliff in Washington. Today they're also focusing on the monthly non-farm payrolls report at 8:30 a.m. ET, which is forecast to show that 85,000 jobs were created last month.
While normally important, today's job numbers carry less weight because they were probably reduced by Hurricane Sandy hitting New York and New Jersey in late October. Other employment data has been mixed this week, with ADP's private-sector payrolls report missing estimates on Wednesday but weekly jobless claims coming in better than expected.
The University of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment follows the job report at 9:45 a.m. ET. Economists forecast a reading of 82.4, down from 82.7 last month.
The main economic news overseas came from Germany, whose central bank lowered its 2013 growth outlook.
Currencies and commodities are also painting a cautious picture. The euro, Canadian dollar and Australian dollar, which tend to follow share prices, are all slightly lower. The Japanese yen, which moves in the opposite direction, is also higher across the board.
Crude oil and gold are down by about one-quarter of a percent. Copper is slightly positive and most agricultural foodstuffs are lower. Silver is dropping by almost a full percentage point.
In company-specific news, Irish drug maker Amarin is indicated to fall about 19 percent after saying it would borrow $100 million and market its Vascepa without the help of a partner.
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