Stocks mostly lower amid data, earnings; Greece eyed

Getty Images Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Getty Images
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

U.S. stocks opened lower on Thursday, following a decline in European equities, as investors digested domestic data and eyed renewed concerns about Greece.

“The real disappointment here is housing starts, again (showing) very mixed signals from the housing market,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. “That coupled with renewed concerns over Greece is weighing on (stocks).”

U.S. March housing starts showed a 0.926 million unit rate, below expectations but above February’s 0.908 million unit rate.

The usual weekly initial jobless claims came in at 294,000, above expectations and a slight increase from the prior week.

The Philadelphia Fed’s business outlook index for April is due at at 10 a.m.

In Europe, equities fell in early trading on Thursday after mixed first-quarter earnings reports and concerns that Greece’s economic outlook has deteriorated further. Standard & Poor’s cut the country’s credit rating to “CCC+” from “B-” with a negative outlook on Wednesday.

“At least this morning it’s certainly Greece. We’re seeing some contagion here today,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group.

Read More Fueled by rising oil, stocks could take back highs

Oil will also be in focus on Thursday, with Brent crude oil rising more than 3 percent to a 2015 high above $63 per barrel on increasing evidence that U.S. production is peaking, before slumping back to trade around $62 a barrel following an OPEC report.

Following a slew of major financial earnings before the bell, American Express is expected to post results after the close.

Citigroup posted earnings per share that beat on revenues that missed expectations.

Goldman Sachs handily beat expectations on both earnings per share and revenue, helped by a burst of trading activity in January when the Swiss central bank removed a cap on the franc. The investment bank also raised its quarterly dividend to 65 cents per share from 60 cents.

BlackRock reported an 8.7 percent rise in first-quarter profit, boosted by strong flows into its exchange-traded funds (ETFs). The asset manager saw net income rise to $822 million in the first quarter, up from $756 million a year earlier.

UnitedHealth earned $1.46 per share for its latest quarter, 11 cents above estimates, with revenue also beating Street expectations. The insurer also raised its 2015 earnings forecast, following stronger business growth during the first quarter.

Blackstone economic net income of $1.37 per unit, well above estimates of $1.04, with revenue also scoring a solid beat. The private equity and investment firm was helped by strong results from asset sales.

Read More Blackstone CEO: We’re an ‘earnings machine’

Positive fallout from Netflix’s after-the-bell report could spill over into momentum names Thursday. Netflix missed on the earnings per share but its stock surged as revenues grew 24 percent and it added more subscribers than expected.

DJIA Dow Jones Industrial Average 18080.01
-32.60 -0.18%
S&P 500 S&P 500 Index 2102.21
-4.42 -0.21%
NASDAQ Nasdaq Composite Index 5008.91
-2.11 -0.04%

Etsy will make its Wall Street debut today, with the crafts marketplace pricing its initial public offering at $16 per share, at the high end of the expected range.

Read More Early movers: GS, UNH, BLK, BX, KEY, PM, SHW & more

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi was questioned about Greece at his regular press conference on Wednesday, after the central bank opted to keep interest rates unchanged. Draghi said he was unready to “contemplate” a default by Greece and dismissed fears of a bubble in bond markets.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down 8 points, or 0.05 percent, at 18,097, with UnitedHealth leading blue chip advancers and Microsoft the greatest laggard.

The S&P 500 opened down 3 points, or 0.15 percent, at 2,103, with energy the greatest of seven laggards and consumer sectors leading advancers.

The Nasdaq opened down 8 points, or 0.16 percent, at 5,002.

Five stocks declined for every three advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, with an exchange volume of 57 million and a composite volume of 151 million in the open.

CNBC’s Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.

On tap this week:


Earnings: American Express, Schlumberger, Celanese, ServiceNow

10:00 a.m.: Philadelphia Fed survey

1:00 p.m.: Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart

1:10 p.m.: Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester

1:30 p.m.: Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren

3:00 p.m.: Fed Vice Chairman Fischer on inflation at IMF spring meeting


Earnings: GE, Honeywell, Synchrony Financial, Comerica

8:30 a.m.: CPI

10:00 a.m.: Consumer sentiment

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