In the Headlines
With expectations high that the Fed will announce changes in its Treasury portfolio today, stock futures pointed to a mixed open on Wall Street.
The Federal Open Market Committee wraps up its two-day meeting today, with a statement due out at 2:15 p.m. EDT. In recent days, the market has come to expect a shift toward longer-term holdings, with the Fed employing a strategy dubbed Operation Twist.
Meanwhile, Greece is expected to announce austerity plans later today. If the nation meets conditions set by its creditors, the country's government will be set to receive an infusion of 8 billion euros so it can keep paying its bills. Without the bailout, Greece is on track to default next month.
European markets were trading to the downside before Wall Street's open. French banks were under selling pressure, as traders continued to fret about these institutions' Greek exposure. The euro was trading lower vs. the dollar early Wednesday.
Asian markets finished Wednesday with mixed results, as traders awaited financial news from the eurozone and the U.S. Most major indices closed to the upside, although Hong Kong's Hang Seng ended 1% lower, as retailers and property developers slumped.
In addition to the much-anticipated Fed statement today, economic news includes data from the housing sector. Mortgage applications rose 0.6% last week, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association's regular Wednesday report.
At 10 a.m. EDT, the National Association of Realtors releases its existing home sales report for August. Economists see an increase of 1.7% over July, which showed a decline. However, most housing industry analysts believe better numbers would simply be a small bounce-back, not the beginning of a housing recovery.
Oil and Copper
At 10:30 a.m. EDT, the Energy Department is set to release its weekly data on crude oil inventories. Analysts expect a decline of 700,000 barrels. Ahead of Wall Street's open, West Texas intermediate crude was flat, at $86.89 per barrel.
Copper, which has skidded recently, advanced $0.0095 to $3.74 per pound, following reports that China's economy is holding up better than was earlier expected in the global slowdown.
In earnings news, General Mills (GIS) reported earnings per share of $0.64, excluding items, for its fiscal first quarter. That topped expectations of $0.02. Revenue was $3.85 billion, ahead of Wall Street's forecast of $3.81 billion. The company reported higher input costs, and reaffirmed its 2012 outlook.
After the bell, retailer Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) is scheduled to report its second-quarter results. Analysts are eyeing per-share income of $0.84 on sales of $2.31 billion, with same-store sales rising 4.9%. The stock has been forming a potentially bullish price consolidation in the weeks ahead of the report. The current base's low undercut the trough of the previous consolidation. That type of technical action frequently sets the stage for a fresh price run-up. However, poor guidance always has potential to sink a stock, at least in the short term.
Also due out after the bell is a second-quarter report from open-source software maker Red Hat (RHT). The company is expected to post earnings per share (EPS) of $0.25 on revenue of $271.18 million. Sales and earnings growth have shown strong advances lately, although the stock has floundered in the broader market volatility, shedding 12.18%, year to date.
Early price movers Wednesday included enterprise software and server maker Oracle (ORCL), gaining $1.45, 5.11%, to $29.80. Late Tuesday the company reported a better-than-expected first quarter, with new software licenses showing strength.
Also rising in premarket trade following an earnings report was Adobe (ADBE). The S&P 500 member jumped $1.81, 7.35%, to $26.45, after issuing an optimistic outlook for the fourth quarter.
Coal miner Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) dropped $1.44 ahead of the bell, losing 5.35%, to $25.48. The selloff came after the company slashed its 2011 shipment guidance.
Analyst actions ahead of the open included ThinkEquity's initiation of coverage on Fusion-io (FIO) with a rating of Buy. The maker of data storage products for corporate users went public in June at $19, but the stock has struggled in weak market conditions. Analysts expect earnings to double next year and rise another 83% in 2013.