Stocks to open higher on Europe hopes

@CNNMoneyInvest February 29, 2012: 8:44 AM ET
u.s. stock futures, premarket

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were set for a higher open Wednesday, after the European Central Bank said that it well lend €529.5 billion, or $721.4 billion, to European banks in an effort to prevent a credit crunch.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were up between 0.1% and 0.2%. Stock futures indicate the possible direction of the markets when they open at 9:30 a.m. ET.

The ECB's second Long-Term Refinancing Operation, in which banks will be able to borrow money for 3 years at interest rates as low as 1%, is an effort to prevent a credit crunch in Europe. In its first round of lending in December, the ECB doled out nearly €500 billion.

"The ECB's second three-year loan operation will provide further vital support for the eurozone's beleaguered banking sector," said Jennifer Mckeown, senior European economist at Capital Economics. "But hopes that the funds will also solve the fiscal crisis and breathe life into the ailing eurozone economy are likely to be disappointed."

Investors will also continue to keep a close eye on oil and rising gas prices. On Wednesday, gas prices rose for the 22nd straight day.

Trading could be choppy Wednesday, with stocks at multi-year highs and heading into the final trading day of the month. On Tuesday, the Dow closed above 13,000 for the first time since May 19, 2008.

The S&P 500 closed at its highest level since June 2008, while the Nasdaq finished at its highest point since December 2000.

Following the best January since 1997, February has been another solid month for the stock market. The Dow is on track for a 3% gain, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq are about 5% higher heading into the final trading day of the month.

Europe needs a bigger financial firewall

World markets: European stocks were mixed in afternoon trading. Britain's FTSE 100 (UKX) slipped slightly, the DAX (DAX) in Germany rose 0.5% and France's CAC 40 (CAC40) added 0.5%.

Asian markets ended mixed. The Shanghai Composite (SHCOMP) dropped 1%, while the Hang Seng (HSI) in Hong Kong added 0.5% and Japan's Nikkei (N225) ended just above breakeven.

Economy: The government said the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 3% during the fourth quarter, up from its initial estimate of 2.8%.

The February installment of the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index is expected to come in at 60, down slightly from 60.2 in January but still well above the 50 threshold that signifies manufacturing expansion.

The Fed's Beige Book, a summary of reports from its 12 district banks, comes on the same day Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to offer testimony on the economy and monetary policy before the House Financial Services Committee.

Companies: Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) shares moved higher in premarket trading Wednesday, boosting the company's value on the stock market to above $500 billion -- another record high for what was already the world's most valuable company.

Shares of First Solar (FSLR) tumbled after the leading maker of thin-film solar panels issued disappointing quarterly results. First Solar also lowered its forecast for sales in 2012 late Tuesday.

Shares of Staples (SPLS, Fortune 500) moved higher after the office supply chain posted better-than-expected earnings and sales figures for the fiscal fourth quarter.

Costco (COST, Fortune 500) also topped earnings and sales estimates for the fiscal second quarter, sending the stock higher.

Shares of Liz Claiborne (LIZ) moved higher as the company posted fourth-quarter earnings in line with expectations, and better-than-expected sales.

Gas prices spike 8% in February

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

Oil for April delivery rose 53 cents to $107.08 a barrel.

Gold futures for April delivery fell $1.20 to $1,787.20 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury rose slightly, with the yield around 1.95%.  To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 24,640.45 178.75 0.73%
Nasdaq 7,714.96 2.01 0.03%
S&P 500 2,762.71 12.95 0.47%
Treasuries 2.91 0.01 0.45%
Data as of 1:44pm ET
Company Price Change % Change
Micron Technology In... 57.33 -2.11 -3.55%
Advanced Micro Devic... 15.82 0.17 1.09%
AT&T Inc 31.86 0.26 0.81%
Bank of America Corp... 29.12 -0.17 -0.57%
General Electric Co 12.94 0.19 1.45%
Data as of 1:29pm ET
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