US pre-open: Cautious kick-off for New York as Dow eyes 18,000 all-time high

US stocks are seen opening on a cautious note ahead of a flurry of key US economic data that could help the Dow Jones hit the 18,000 mark for the first time.

Late morning futures were pointing to a flat-to-slightly weaker start for US stocks, with the Dow easing nine points at open to 17,950, but the S&P 500 ahead two points to 2,076. The Nasdaq is seen four points lower at 4,289.

Jasper Lawler, analyst at CMC Markets, notes that US blue-chip tech stocks were the top risers yesterday thanks to end of year “window-dressing” – when fund managers look to manage the appearance of their portfolios by moving into top performing asset classes and jettisoning underperforming plays.

Lawler notes that the S&P 500 is bumping into its all-time highs around 2,080 and the Dow Jones is around 50 points shy of hitting 18,000 for the first time. “As one of the last days with major data releases before the New Year, this could be one of the last chances for the US 30 to breach the big round number of 18,000 in 2014.”

The potential fuel for that breakthrough includes the final version of US third quarter GDP and durable goods orders for November. Those two readings are expected at 1.30pm GMT.

Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expect US GDP growth to be revised up to 4.4%, from the previous estimate of 3.9%.

Later on, at 2.55pm GMT, the University of Michigan consumer sentiment for December is slated for release.

Finally, at 3pm GMT, new-home sales, personal spending data and the core Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index reading are due.

The core PCE price index measures the prices paid by consumers for goods and services without the volatility caused by movements in food and energy prices to reveal underlying inflation trends. The index is closely watched by the Federal Reserve.