US STOCKS-Futures flat, but crude oil sharply lower

* Crude oil slumps, but above $ 50 per barrel

* Greece aims to finish euro zone deal “soon”

* Jobless claims awaited, seen falling in latest week

* Dow down 7 pts, S&P down 1.5 pt, Nasdaq up 3.5 pts

By Ryan Vlastelica

NEW YORK, Feb 19 (Reuters) – S&P Futures were little changed on Thursday as investors looked ahead to data on the labor market and continued to digest recent comments by Federal Reserve officials.

* Fed policymakers expressed concern last month that raising interest rates too soon could pour cold water on the U.S. economic recovery, according to minutes from the Fed’s Jan. 27-28 meeting. Stocks generally have risen with any sign the Fed could raise rates later rather than sooner.

* Energy shares looked to be in focus as crude oil fell 4 percent to $ 50.08 after another big weekly build in U.S. crude inventories and possible rise in Saudi output added to worries about oversupply. The commodity has rebounded 15 percent from a recent bottom hit in late January but is still down more than 50 percent from a June peak.

* While the decline in energy prices is expected to spur consumer spending, it has severely hurt oil companies, with many cutting spending plans for 2015 in a bearish sign for economic growth prospects. Late Wednesday, Marathon Oil said it would cut its 2015 capital budget by 20 percent, the second cut of that magnitude since December.

* While oil prices have been volatile of late, notching sharp swings in both directions, the broader market has been fairly quiet as investors await clarity on the situation in Greece. Over the past 14 sessions, the S&P 500 has moved an average of 21.06 points from its peak to its trough, down from an average of 31 points on Feb. 2. The CBOE Volatility index has fallen for five of the past six sessions.

* In Europe, Greece aims to conclude a deal with its euro zone partners “soon,” a government spokesman said on Thursday. U.S.-listed shares of the National Bank (NYSE: NBHC – news) of Greece rose 7.9 percent to $ 1.63 before the bell.

* Investors await U.S. jobless claims data, which are seen falling to 293,000 from 304,000 in the latest week. The February Philadelphia Fed index will be released after the market opens, and is seen rising to 9.3 from 6.3.

Futures snapshot at 6:49 a.m.:

* S&P 500 e-minis were down 1.5 points, or 0.07 percent, with 72,610 contracts changing hands.

* Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 3.5 points, or 0.08 percent, in volume of 11,214 contracts.

* Dow e-minis were down 7 points, or 0.04 percent, with 14,175 contracts changing hands. (Editing by Bernadette Baum)

S&P Futures

spfutures.org@imediaone.com

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