Thursday January 19th


US stock futures slightly lower after ECB keeps rates unchanged; Mnuchin hearing eyed

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower open on Thursday after the European Central Bank kept key interest rates unchanged as traders eyed the confirmation hearing of Treasury nominee Steven Mnuchin. The ECB also said it would keep it would continue its asset purchase program at 80 billion euros per month until March, then reduce it 60 billion euros per month. The central bank reiterated, however, its willingness to further intervene should the European economy worsen. The pan European Stoxx 600 Index was around 0.25 percent lower on Thursday. Stateside, Congress may ask Mnuchin questions about his role in his former firm's foreclosures on homeowners, but markets are also going to watch for the former Goldman Sachs partner's comments about the dollar. Comments about China and its currency will also be of big interest. Traders also will take note of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's comments when she speaks about the economic outlook and conduct of monetary policy in San Francisco at 8 p.m. ET. On the data front Thursday, housing starts spiked 11.3 percent in December, while initial jobless claims fell to 234,000. On the earnings front Bank of NY Mellon reported quarterly results before the bell. American Express and IBM are among companies set to report after the bell. Asia markets traded mixed on Thursday, with shares of Japanese electronics maker Toshiba tumbling nearly 16 percent after a report suggested it was considering the sale of its semiconductor business. In Japan, the Nikkei Stock Average climbed 177.88 points, or 0.94 percent, to 19,072.25, as export-oriented shares received a boost from a relatively weaker yen. The yen traded at 114.59 against the dollar at 2:36 p.m. HK/SIN, weakening from levels below 113.00 briefly touched in the previous session. Chinese mainland shares retreated in the afternoon, with the Shanghai composite closing down 11.31 points, or 0.36 percent, at 3,101.70, and the Shenzhen composite slipping 7.13 points, or 0.38 percent, to 1,857.45. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index declined 0.33 percent in late-afternoon trading. Oil prices recovered from a one-week low on Thursday as the International Energy Agency said oil markets were tightening even before cuts agreed by OPEC and other producers took effect. International benchmark Brent crude was up 45 cents, or 0.8 percent, at $54.37 a barrel by 8:24 a.m. ET (1324 GMT) after closing down 2.8 percent in the previous session. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude oil was up 51 cents, or 1 percent, at $51.59 per barrel, having dropped to a one-week low on Wednesday at $50.91 a barrel. Gold steadied on Thursday after suffering its biggest fall in more than a month in the previous session on Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen's indication that the U.S. central bank would press ahead with interest rate increases. Gold fell by 1.1 percent on Wednesday, the most since Dec. 15, after Yellen's remarks lifted the dollar by as much as 2 percent, making gold more expensive for holders of other currencies. U.S. bond yields, meanwhile, rose to their highest since Jan. 9, reducing the attraction of non-yielding bullion. Spot gold continued to fall in early trading on Thursday, touching a low of $1,197.3 an ounce before recovering to $1,204.40, 0.1 percent down on the day.