MarketWatch.com - Pre-Market Indications

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Indications: U.S. stock futures mildly higher after PPI

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By Steve Goldstein & Kate Gibson, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock futures on Wednesday pointed to an extension of the slow but steady gains over the past week, as markets continued to respond to news of the Federal Reserve's unchanged stance on interest rates.

Futures for the major stock indexes mostly maintained after the government reported wholesale prices fell 0.6% in February, while the core PPI - which excludes food and energy costs - rose 0.1% last month.

"Because of the moving piece of energy, the headline fall is old news and tomorrow's CPI report will be more relevant to market action," said Peter Boockvar, managing strategist at Miller Tabak.

S&P 500 futures rose 2.5 points to 1,157.3 and Nasdaq 100 futures were up 2 points to 1,930.5. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 20 points.

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U.S. stocks rose Tuesday, with the Dow industrials closing higher for a sixth straight time and the S&P 500 finishing at a 17-month high as the Federal Reserve again said it would keep interest rates low for an extended period and as Standard & Poor's said it would not imminently downgrade Greece.

While expectations are growing that next month the Fed may change its language to a slightly more hawkish posture, the Bank of Japan doubled a loan program to $221 billion as it kept interest rates at 0.1%.

In the U.K., data showed an unexpected drop in jobless claims during February, the biggest monthly fall since November 1997. That data sent the British pound up against the U.S. dollar and the euro.

Also of note, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and the ex-Fed chairman and current White House adviser Paul Volcker will be testifying on bank supervision.

OPEC ministers are meeting in Vienna with Saudi Arabia's oil minister quoted as saying output levels will be unchanged due to "good demand, reliable supply, [and] beautiful prices." Weekly U.S. energy-inventories data are due at 10:30 a.m.

Overseas markets were stronger in their first opportunity to react to the Fed decision, with the Nikkei 225 up 1.2% in Tokyo and the Kospi Composite up 2.1% in Seoul, while the FTSE 100 rose 0.4% in London.

Commodity prices also were stronger, with gold futures up more than $2 an ounce and oil futures back above $82 a barrel.

Hartford Financial Services Group /quotes/comstock/13*!hig/quotes/nls/hig (HIG 28.68, +1.42, +5.21%) gained 3.5% as the insurer said it would repay the $3.4 billion it received from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Discover /quotes/comstock/13*!dfs/quotes/nls/dfs (DFS 15.30, 0.00, 0.00%) also said it would repay TARP.

Steve Goldstein is MarketWatch's London bureau chief. Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.


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