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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Indications: U.S. futures still tight after Wal-Mart report

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By Steve Goldstein, MarketWatch

PARIS (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock futures Thursday continued to hold to a narrow range after a mixed earnings report from the world's top retailer, Wal-Mart Stores, as a number of reports on the economy are due to come.

S&P 500 futures fell 2.4 points to 1,097.20 while Nasdaq 100 futures rose a half point to 1,812.20. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 11 points.

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Wal-Mart Stores /quotes/comstock/13*!wmt/quotes/nls/wmt (WMT 54.06, +0.50, +0.93%) reported a stronger-than-forecast quarterly profit, while the midpoint of its fiscal 2011 guidance was short of estimates.

Wal-Mart shares slipped 2% in premarket trade.

Hewlett-Packard /quotes/comstock/13*!hpq/quotes/nls/hpq (HPQ 50.12, +0.68, +1.38%) rose 1% however as it reported a 25% profit rise and upped its fiscal-year revenue outlook. Rival Dell /quotes/comstock/15*!dell/quotes/nls/dell (DELL 14.11, -0.03, -0.21%) reports after the close of trade. See related H-P story.

There were a slew of reports out of Europe, with Daimler /quotes/comstock/13*!dai/quotes/nls/dai (DAI 45.06, -0.06, -0.13%) skidding as the maker of Mercedes reported a loss and said it won't pay a dividend, while engineering group ABB /quotes/comstock/13*!abb/quotes/nls/abb (ABB 18.51, +0.20, +1.09%) climbed as its profit more than doubled and it increased its dividend. See Daimler story.

There's also a flurry of data for Thursday, including weekly jobless claims, producer prices for January, the February Philly Fed index and January leading indicators.

Gold futures slumped as the International Monetary Fund said it would sell 191.3 metric tons of gold. See IMF story.

Oil futures slipped before weekly energy inventories data.

The hard-hit euro /quotes/comstock/21o!x:seurusd (CUR_EURUSD 1.36, 0.00, -0.17%) also was weaker, putting it on track for losses in six out of the last seven sessions as concerns over European unwillingness to detail specific measures on how they could help Greece continue to pressure the shared currency.

The Bank of Japan held interest rates at 0.1% as it said the Japanese economy is picking up but not on a self-sustaining growth path.

Most Asian markets closed with modest losses, though the Nikkei 225 ended up 0.3% in Tokyo, and in Europe, the Dow Jones Stoxx 600 rose 0.4%.

U.S. stocks posted a second straight gain Wednesday, boosted by strong profit reports and economic data that reinforced investors' newfound preference for the U.S. over Europe as a venue to put their money to work. But markets did close off the day's best levels after minutes from the last Federal Open Market Committee interest-rate-setting meeting revealed a slightly more hawkish tone than economists had anticipated.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 each rose 0.4% and the Nasdaq Composite added 0.6%. For 2010, however, those indexes are down between 1% and 2%.

Steve Goldstein is MarketWatch's London bureau chief.


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