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Pre-Market Primer: Jobless Claims Return to Normal; PC Sales Stink


Bad news for Microsoft today.

Stocks headed higher today while the US job market improved.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance fell sharply to 346,000 last week from the previous week's upwardly-revised 388,000. Economists expected a modest drop to 365,000.

One bearish factor that might weigh on investors' minds is a Fed president's suggestion that the central bank should start rolling back quantitative easing. In a speech in Hong Kong, Philadelphia Fed chief Charles Plosser said that the labor market has seen sufficient improvement to warrant scaling back on the Fed's $85 billion per month monetary stimulus.

Plosser's comments follow yesterday's Federal Open Markets Committee minutes that showed several Fed officials are leaning toward ending quantitative easing by the end of the year as long as the labor market continues to improve. Chairman Ben Bernanke, however, hasn't changed his conviction that easing should remain in place for longer.

European shares turned higher today as news came out that Cyprus will be forced to supply even more money to fund its debt bailout. The total rescue amounts to 23 billion euros. Greek unemployment rose again to 27.2% in January from 25.7% in December, twice the eurozone average of 12%. Japanese stocks surged 1.96%, breaking a four-year peak on the Nikkei (INDEXNIKKEI:.NI225) as the new central bank chief said that his 2% inflation target is flexible.

After setting new record highs, US stock futures are set to follow the rest of the world's equities higher, probably rising for the third straight day. Dow (INDEXDJX:.DJI) futures are up 0.06% at 14,741 and S&P 500 (INDEXSP:.INX) futures rose 0.02% to 1,583.10. Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) futures retreated 0.23% to 2,846.75.

Worldwide PC shipments fell 13.9% from last year to just 75.3 million in the first quarter, according to IDC. This fourth straight quarter of negative year-over-year comes despite the debut of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows 8 last year. Shipments were expected to fall 7.7%.

"It seems clear that the Windows 8 launch not only failed to provide a positive boost to the PC market, but appears to have slowed the market," said Bob O'Donnell, IDC Program Vice President, Clients and Displays. "While some consumers appreciate the new form factors and touch capabilities of Windows 8, the radical changes to the UI, removal of the familiar Start button, and the costs associated with touch have made PCs a less attractive alternative to dedicated tablets and other competitive devices."

Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) narrowly took the top spot for global market share, but shares are down 5.3%. Intel (NASDAQ:INTC), the biggest chipmaker, fell 2.2%. IDC's figures might give a preview for earnings at major PC and computer component manufacturers.

The poor PC sales numbers comes as Microsoft was moved to sell from neutral by Goldman Sachs (NYSE:GS), sending shares of the software company down by 3.6%.

Deutsche Telekom (PINK:DTEGY), which operates T-Mobile USA, made a better offer for Metro PCS (NYSE:PCS) to try to win over shareholders.

Bed, Bath and Beyond (NASDAQ:BBBY) shares rose 2.3% as it forecast a major rise in sales for the past quarter.

Twitter: @vincent_trivett
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