* CME to pay next dividend in Dec to avoid tax hike
* Futures: Dow flat, S&P off 1 pt, Nasdaq off 2 pts
By Rodrigo Campos
NEW YORK, Dec 6 U.S. stock index futures were
little changed on Thursday in what could be another choppy
session as the progress of fiscal negotiations in Washington
continues to determine the market's fate.
President Barack Obama said there could be a quick deal to
avert the "fiscal cliff" - tax hikes and spending cuts set to
begin next year, possibly driving the U.S. economy back into
recession - if Republican leaders agree to raise tax rates for
those making more than $250,000 a year.
While Republican leaders in the House of Representatives
insist that raising tax rates on the rich is a no-go, some GOP
lawmakers now see it as inevitable to avoid the fiscal cliff.
"The market is going to continue to look for news out of
Washington and that is going to be the main driver," said Kim
Forrest, senior equity research analyst at Fort Pitt Capital
Group in Pittsburgh.
She said with the holidays fast approaching and market
participants taking days off, trading volumes will start to
shrink, leaving the market vulnerable to sharp swings.
"We have some days ahead that are going to be volatile."
Several European equity benchmark indexes hit 2012 highs,
boosted by hopes a U.S. budget deal will be reached before the
year-end, and that the worst of Europe's debt crisis might be
CME Group, the biggest operator of U.S. futures
exchanges, joined several companies Wednesday that were moving
2013 dividend payouts to this month to shield shareholders from
expected tax hikes in 2013. Without action from Congress in
coming weeks, tax cuts on capital gains and dividends will
expire at the end of 2012.
Apple Inc's rank in China's smartphone market fell
to No.6 in the third quarter as it faces tougher competition
from Chinese brands, research firm IDC said Thursday. Apple's
6.4 percent drop on Wednesday was its worst daily performance
since mid December 2008 and dragged down the Nasdaq Composite.
Shares of Apple were down 1 percent at $533.59
in premarket trading.
S&P 500 futures dipped a point and were flat in terms
of 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 were flat,
and Nasdaq 100 futures dropped 2 points.
On the data front, the Labor Department releases first-time
claims for jobless benefits for the latest week at 8:30 a.m. ET
(1330 GMT). Economists in a Reuters survey forecast a total of
380,000 new filings compared with 393,000 in the prior week.
H&R Block, the biggest U.S. tax preparer, reported a
narrower-than-expected quarterly loss as its cost-reduction
measures continued to pay off.
The broad market seesawed Wednesday, with the S&P 500
dropping into negative territory before it rebounded off the
1,400 level, seen as a key technical support.