Economic optimism to boost stocks

@CNNMoneyInvest February 23, 2012: 9:14 AM ET
u.s. stock futures, premarket

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were headed for a slightly higher open Thursday, on the back of strong European economic data.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were up between 0.1% and 0.3% ahead of the opening bell. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

While worries about Greece continue to loom in the background, investors were encouraged after a reading on Germany's business conditions rose for a fourth straight month in February -- the highest level since July, according to the Munich-based Ifo institute.

February's reading adds evidence that Germany, Europe's largest economy, avoid falling into recession during the first quarter, said Ben May, European economist at Capital Economics.

Meanwhile, the European Commission forecasts that the eurozone will likely face a mild recession in 2012, thanks to negative growth in Greece, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Slovenia and Belgium.

79% of fund managers didn't beat the S&P

Prior to the start of trading, the U.S. Labor Department reported that the number of workers filing for unemployment in the U.S. was 351,000. That's slightly better than analysts' forecasts and unchanged from the week prior, which was revised up from 348,000.

U.S. stocks drifted lower Wednesday, amid doubts over the latest bailout for Greece and some negative indicators out of China and Europe.

Greece secured additional bailout funds earlier this week that will help it avoid default in the immediate term. However, analysts warn that the nation will eventually need more support. Greece's fate also depends on whether private-sector investors agree to a historic debt-reduction plan.

World markets: European stocks were mixed in morning trading. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) edged up 0.2% and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) slipped slightly, while the DAX (DAX) in Germany shed 0.5%.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) rose 0.3% and Japan's Nikkei (N225) added 0.4%, while the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong fell 0.8%.

Economy: The Federal Housing Finance Agency is scheduled to release its Housing Price Index for December.

On Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors reported that the median home price in January fell 2% from December to $154,700 -- the lowest price reading since November 2001.

Companies: T-Mobile, owned by Germany's Deutsche Telekom (DT), said "not carrying the iPhone led to a significant increase in contract deactivations in the fourth quarter of 2011." The company lost 526,000 customers during the quarter, compared to adding 126,000 during the third quarter of 2011.

AT&T CEO pay docked $2 million for T-Mobile debacle

Meanwhile, AT&T's (T, Fortune 500) board cut CEO Randall Stephenson's 2011 pay by $2 million, as a direct response to the failed T-Mobile takover bid.

Kohl's (KSS, Fortune 500) posted fourth-quarter results in-line with Wall Street's estimates, but the retailer's first-quarter forecast fell short of expectations, sending shares lower. Kohl's raised its quarterly dividend by 28% to 32 cents per share.

Target (TGT, Fortune 500)'s stock moved higher after the company topped earnings and sales expectations and provided an upbeat outlook for 2012.

Sears Holdings (SHLD, Fortune 500) reported earnings that fell far short of forecasts and said it planned to sell of some of its stores in an effort to raise $400 million to $500 million. The retailer, which also owns Kmart as well as the Kenmore, Craftsman and Lands' End brands, has been struggling for months.

Target (TGT, Fortune 500) reported betterh-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings and said it expects profit growth of 3% to 8% this year.

As PC sales swooned, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) said late Wednesday that its profit fell by a dramatic 44% while sales sank 7% in its fiscal first quarter, ended Jan. 31. Rival Dell (DELL, Fortune 500) suffered a similar fate over the past three months, posting earnings and an outlook on Tuesday that disappointed Wall Street investors.

Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) holds its shareholder meeting in Cupertino, Calif., on Thursday.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar fell against the euro, the British pound and the Japanese yen.

Fear of Iran is inflating gas prices

Oil for April delivery rose 16 cents to $106.44 a barrel. Oil prices have climbed more than 5% in the last week, and are inflating gas prices too, amid rising nervousness over Iran's nuclear program.

The price of regular unleaded gasoline jumped 3.3 cents overnight to $3.612 a gallon, according to motorist group AAA.

Gold futures for April delivery rose $6.20 to $1,777.50 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 2.03% from 2% late Wednesday.  To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,445.72 20.87 0.13%
Nasdaq 4,107.36 21.13 0.52%
S&P 500 1,868.79 6.48 0.35%
Treasuries 2.72 0.08 3.19%
Data as of 2:24pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.22 0.09 0.53%
Facebook Inc 59.35 -0.37 -0.62%
General Electric Co 26.69 0.57 2.19%
Micron Technology In... 24.03 1.55 6.90%
Cisco Systems Inc 23.16 0.13 0.56%
Data as of 2:09pm ET
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed4.41%4.44%
15 yr fixed3.33%3.31%
5/1 ARM3.34%3.55%
30 yr refi4.39%4.41%
15 yr refi3.31%3.30%
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