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Friday, April 9, 2010

Indications: U.S. stock futures point to modest gains

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By Simon Kennedy, MarketWatch

LONDON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stock futures pointed slightly higher in the final session of the week, with markets on course to extend the previous session's retail-sales-inspired gains.

S&P 500 futures rose 2.7 points at 1,186.4 and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 4.5 points at 1,984.5. Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 24 points.

U.S. markets reversed early losses to close higher on Thursday after upbeat sales results from many retailers produced the largest increase in monthly sales since 1999. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up nearly 30 points, the S&P 500 Index rose around 4 points and the Nasdaq Composite gained 5.7 points.

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Friday's main economic data will come after markets open with the release of wholesale inventories data for February at 10 a.m. Eastern time.

The dollar remained relatively steady ahead of the data, edging up 0.3% against the yen at 93.71 yen, while slipping marginally against the euro.

Crude-oil prices rose, with the May-dated light crude contract up 70 cents at $86.09 a barrel. Gold futures also rose, hitting their highest level since the middle of December. Gold for April delivery hit an intraday high of $1,157.90 in electronic trading on Globex.

Among companies in focus, shares in Ambac /quotes/comstock/13*!abk/quotes/nls/abk (ABK 0.64, +0.03, +5.32%) jumped 57% in pre-market trading after the bond insurer said late Thursday it swung to a fourth-quarter net profit of $558.1 million from a loss of $2.34 billion a year earlier.

First-quarter earnings season for U.S. companies will start next week, with Alcoa /quotes/comstock/13*!aa/quotes/nls/aa (AA 14.87, +0.13, +0.88%) due to announce its numbers after the close on Monday.

Banks will also be under the spotlight Friday after The Wall Street Journal reported that 18 firms, including Citigroup /quotes/comstock/13*!c/quotes/nls/c (C 4.47, +0.11, +2.52%) , Goldman Sachs /quotes/comstock/13*!gs/quotes/nls/gs (GS 179.50, +3.14, +1.78%) and J.P. Morgan Chase /quotes/comstock/13*!jpm/quotes/nls/jpm (JPM 45.76, +0.44, +0.97%) masked the level of risk they took over the last five quarters by lowering their debt levels just before reporting the figures publicly. See story on banks' repo transactions.

Also after Thursday's close, oil giant Chevron Corp. /quotes/comstock/13*!cvx/quotes/nls/cvx (CVX 77.66, +0.29, +0.37%) said its first-quarter earnings are likely to be better than fourth-quarter results. The energy giant did not discuss specific numbers but analysts are projecting Chevron to hand in earnings of $1.66 a share.

Valero Energy /quotes/comstock/13*!vlo/quotes/nls/vlo (VLO 20.02, -0.09, -0.45%) is selling its 210,000-barrel-a-day Delaware City refinery to PBF Energy Partners -- a fund of Petroplus, Blackstone Group /quotes/comstock/13*!bx/quotes/nls/bx (BX 14.62, -0.06, -0.41%) and First Reserve -- for $220 million. See story on Delaware City deal.

European shares climbed Friday with the German DAX 30 index up 0.8% as investors shifted their focus to the evidence of growing U.S. consumption, though worries about Greece still hung over the markets. Asian stock markets also traded mostly higher, with Japan's Nikkei 225 Average rising 0.3%.

Simon Kennedy is the City correspondent for MarketWatch in London.


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