US STOCKS-Wall St set to open flat, "cliff" concerns temper data

Thu Dec 13, 2012 9:11am EST

* Worries over fiscal cliff keep investors cautious

* Initial jobless claims fell sharply last week

* Best Buy surges on report its founder to make buy offer

* Futures: S&P down 0.6 pt, Dow up 28 pts, Nasdaq down 2 pts

By Leah Schnurr

NEW YORK, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Wall Street was set to open little changed on Thursday after data showed first time claims for jobless benefits fell sharply last week, but investors were cautious about making aggressive bets in the midst of ongoing "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

Shares of Best Buy Co surged more than 15 percent after a report that the company's founder is expected to make a fully financed offer to buy the consumer electronics retailer by the end of the week. Best Buy was up 15.5 percent at $14.07 in premarket trade.

In the European Union, finance ministers reached a deal to make the European Central Bank the bloc's top banking supervisor. The move could boost confidence in leaders' ability to tackle the region's sovereign debt crisis.

Still, equities gains were likely to be constrained as the set of tax hikes and spending cuts that are set to come into effect in the new year remained at the forefront of investors' minds. Negotiators on Wednesday warned the showdown over reaching a deal on the so-called fiscal cliff could drag on past Christmas.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday announced a fresh bout of stimulus for the U.S. economy, but markets focused on comments from Chairman Ben Bernanke, who reiterated that monetary policy would not be enough to offset going over the fiscal cliff.

Investors are worried that doing so could send the economy back into recession, though most expect a deal will be struck eventually.

"Obviously people still have their eyes on the fiscal cliff negotiations," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments LLC in Lisle, Illinois.

"It's just a wait-and-see mode. But it does suggest to me, that if they actually do reach a deal, hopefully people will look back and see the predominance of good news and maybe we will get a nice pop out of it."

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 29,000 to a seasonally adjusted 343,000, pointing to healing in the labor market.

Separate reports released at the same time showed producer prices fell more than expected in November, while retail sales rebounded. Business inventories are due at 10 a.m. (1500 GMT).

S&P 500 futures edged up 0.6 point but were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 20 points, while Nasdaq 100 futures were up 0.25 point.

Sprint Nextel Corp is offering $2.1 billion to buy the rest of Clearwire Corp to get full ownership of its wireless spectrum. Shares of Clearwire jumped 11.6 percent to $3.07, while Sprint slipped 0.7 percent to $5.62.

CVS Caremark Corp gained 4.9 percent to $49.85 after it said it expects higher earnings next year.

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