In the Headlines
Indices were poised to follow Wednesday's gains this morning, with stock futures pointing to a higher open. Investors are awaiting President Obama's jobs speech tonight and Ben Bernanke's speech this afternoon in Minnesota. The Fed Chief's remarks will be dissected for clues about further quantitative easing, although many analysts believe he will avoid making any implied promises along those lines.
The European Central Bank (ECB) left its key interest rate unchanged at 1.5%. At 8:30 a.m. EDT, ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet will give a press conference. Investors and analysts around the world will be listening for signals about a longer-term halt in rate hikes, or even a lowering of rates. Trichet steps down in November, and some analysts believe policy may show more changes under the new chief, Italy's Mario Draghi. Earlier, the Bank of England kept its key rate unchanged at 0.5%, as expected. European stocks, which had been trading significantly higher ahead of the interest-rate announcement, fell from earlier gains, but remained in positive territory.
Asian markets finished mixed, with financials some of the biggest losers. Energy-related stocks, though, picked up some of the slack, posting gains on the heels of strong performance from the sector on Wall Street yesterday.
Economic reports slated for today include the weekly jobless claims data from the Labor Department. New unemployment filings typically get a lot of attention, and sometimes affect stocks. As usual, the 400,000 level is being eyed. The numbers are due out at 8:30 a.m. EDT. Also at 8:30 a.m., the Commerce Department is set to release data on the international trade balance for July. Analysts expect the deficit to close slightly, coming in at $51 billion vs. June's gap of $53.1 billion.
At 11 a.m., the Energy Department will post its weekly tally of crude inventories -- this was pushed back from its usual Wednesday spot because of Monday's holiday. Economists expect to see a drop of 2 million barrels.
At 3 p.m., we will get the Federal Reserve's report on consumer credit for July, expected to show a small decline. This report is almost never a market mover. Crude prices fell $0.12 ahead of today's open, to $89.22 per barrel. Gold advanced $26.20 to $1,843.80 per ounce, reversing declines from the previous two sessions.
There is not much in the way of high-profile earnings reports today. Before the open, Smithfield Foods (SFD) said first-quarter earnings were $0.69 per share, excluding items. That was a penny ahead of expectations. Sales were $3.09 billion, which missed expectations. The company said international sales were strong, and higher prices for consumers also boosted the top line. The company said packaged products sales should rise next year. Its brands include ham, pork, bacon and sausage. Shares rose $0.64 in premarket trade, 2.89%, to $22.76.
After the bell Ulta Salon, Cosmetics & Fragrance (ULTA) is set to report its second-quarter report. The company was a major growth leader between early 2009 and the first half of this year. It's expected to show income of $0.32 per share on sales of $384.18 million. Those would mark increases over the year-earlier quarter.
An early price mover Thursday was S&P 500 component Goodyear Tire (GT), which attempted a rally following a steep correction in the past four months. So far, it is showing a decline of 6.7% for September. In premarket trade, the stock rolled $0.07 higher, 0.60%, to $11.69.
Dow component Pfizer (PFE) slumped $0.08, 0.42%, to $18.93. Data from clinical trials of the company's experimental treatment for rheumatoid arthritis showed the pill effective, but caused serious side effects.
Japan-based investment bank Nomura initiated coverage on a number of big-cap techs. Salesforce.com (CRM), Microsoft (MSFT), Oracle (ORCL) and SAP (SAP) were started with ratings of Buy and gave VMware (VMW) a designation of Neutral.
Wells Fargo upgraded S&P 500 component Darden Restaurants (DRI) to Outperform from Market Perform. The analyst gave a new price target range of $50 to $54, following the stock's recent pullback. Shares closed Wednesday at $44.54.