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22.12.2010 15:25

U.S. stocks were poised for a muted open Wednesday morning ahead of several economic reports, as investors pack up for the holidays and prepare for 2011.


Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were nearly unchanged ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

On Tuesday, U.S. stocks rose modestly but managed to close at their highest levels in more than two years, as investors set their sights on 2011. Stocks are up about 5% this month, and all three major indexes are positioned for double-digit gains for the year.

"Volumes are going to be lighter than usual, which is typical for this time of year," said Erick Maronak, senior portfolio manager for Victory Capital Management.

Despite light trading -- investor sentiment is positive for the upcoming year, and both companies and investors have piles of cash on the sidelines. "I think as investors connect the dots, they might start to feel that next year might be a pretty descent year," he said.

Corporate earnings have been "pretty solid" for the third quarter, Maronak noted, which has given investors increased confidence. However, until the lines of unemployed start finding work -- it's going to be a slow recovery. "That is ultimately what will reverse sentiment, or at least get it moving in the right direction in a faster speed -- unemployment," he said.

Meanwhile, Congress yet again ran up against the deadline to approve a spending bill to keep the lights on in DC. With a government shutdown looming, Congress approved a temporary spending bill late Tuesday that will fund the government for another 10 weeks.

Economy: Before the bell, the Commerce Department will release its third and final take on third-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) growth. GDP is forecast to have grown at a 2.7% annualized rate, up from the previously reported 2.5%.

The existing home sales index from the National Association of Realtors is also due Wednesday morning. The index is expected to have risen to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.65 million units in November -- up from 4.43 million in October, according to a consensus of economists.

U.S. government's weekly crude oil inventories report and a reading on mortgage applications also are on tap for Wednesday.

The FHFA Housing price index for October is also due in the morning, but is not typically a market mover.

Companies: Before the opening bell, Walgreens (WAG, Fortune 500) reported record quarterly earnings and sales for the first quarter of fiscal year 2011. Earnings per share rose 62 cents for the quarter ended Nov. 30 -- blowing past analyst expectations of 54 cents. The pharmacy's profits jumped 18.8% to $580 million, up from $489 million in the same quarter a year ago. Shares of Walgreens rose almost 4% in premarket trade.

American Airlines severed its relationship with online travel site Orbitz.com, after an Illinois court said the airline could cancel its contracts with the travel site, according to the Chicago Tribune. Shares of its holding company, AMR Corp. (AMR, Fortune 500), were little changed in premarket trade.

World markets: European stocks were little changed in morning trading. Britain's FTSE 100 edged up 0.4%, the DAX in Germany was basically flat, and France's CAC 40 edged down 0.1%.

The U.K.'s GDP growth was revised down to 0.7% in the third quarter -- down from 0.8% previously published, according to the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom. Even though the country's economic output was revised slightly lower, it remained 2.7% higher than the same quarter last year.

Asian markets ended the session mixed. The Shanghai Composite fell 0.9% and Japan's Nikkei shaved 0.2%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.2%.


Market Focus

  • U.S building permits and housing starts rose more than expected in January
  • Chicago Business Barometer rose to 67.6 in December, up from 63.9
  • U.S import and export prices rose more than expected in January
  • Canadian manufacturing sales declined 0.3% to $55.5 billion in December
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