NEW YORK – Wall Street was caught on Wednesday between signs of improvement in the labor market and concerns about the Federal Reserve's asset purchases and European debt, while a stronger dollar and weaker commodity prices pressured global markets.
Futures ticked higher after U.S. claims for unemployment benefits declined more than expected a week after data showed U.S. employment surged much more than expected in October.
But gains were light as investors continued to chew over Fed's decision to purchase $600 billion in Treasury debt in a bid to spur a sluggish economy, while Ireland's central bank said it would take a closer look at residential mortgages as concern mounted about the country's finances.
Gold and silver exchange-traded funds gained in premarket action as cautious investors were attracted to perceived safe-haven precious metals. The silver ETF rose 4.6 percent to $27.37 while the gold ETF gained 1.3 percent to $137.34.
Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York, said investors were struggling to understand the Fed's action and even seeing it as a "shell game."
"You have a government that is deeply in debt, using a governmental arm to buy back debt in the marketplace," he said. "It's something that is not easily understood by investors, particularly international investors."
S&P 500 futures rose 1.5 points and were above 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 7 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures added 3 points.
In corporate news, Polo Ralph Lauren Corp (RL.N) reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and again raised its sales outlook for the year, sending shares up 5 percent to $106.
Shares of slot machine maker International Game Technology (IGT.N) dropped 3.5 percent to $15.75 after profits fell slightly short of estimates as demand from its casino customers remained weak.
A Boeing Co (BA.N) 787 test flight made an emergency landing on Tuesday in Texas with smoke in the cabin, the first such incident, putting new scrutiny on the already-delayed program. Boeing shares dropped 1.5 percent to $68.18.