Stocks set for early gains

By staff

NEW YORK( -- U.S. stocks were set to open higher Friday, driven by a better-than-expected report on gross domestic product, upbeat earnings and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's confirmation.

Dow Jones industrial average, Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were higher, gaining momentum after the release of fourth-quarter GDP.

Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance and offer an indication of how markets may open when trading begins in New York.

Investors will be seeking to claw back after a heavy day of losses on Wall Street. The Dow and S&P both shed 1% Thursday while the tech-heavy Nasdaq tumbled nearly 2%.

Prior to the GDP report, Len Blum, managing director at Westwood Capital LLC, said he's skeptical of the positive vibe among investors and of the heady expectations.

"The positive results are from the government stimulus and the inventory cycle," said Blum. "I don't think growth will be sustainable without more government stimulus."

Economy: GDP, the broadest measure of the economy, rose at a 5.7% annual rate in fourth quarter. That is significantly higher than the 4.7% rate that was expected by a consensus of economists surveyed by That's compared to an increase of 2.2% in the prior quarter.

The Chicago PMI, a regional manufacturing survey, is also on tap, as is the University of Michigan's survey on consumer sentiment.

Fed: Investors are also likely to express relief after Bernanke was confirmed for a second term Thursday. Concerns that his term wouldn't be renewed have weighed on investors lately.

Earnings: Rosy results from Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) and Amazon (AMZN, Fortune 500) may offer support. Microsoft posted profit and sales that topped estimates after U.S. markets closed Thursday. Amazon also reported better-than-expected results.

Jobs: President Obama is due to unveil a $33 billion package of tax credits on Friday. The plan is part of his vow to spur job creation.

World markets: Asian shares took another beating as investors took cues from Wall Street's losses. But in Europe, the mood was brighter, with major indexes posting gains in midday trading.

Cash and bonds: The dollar rose against the euro, the yen and the British pound. The price of the 10-year note fell, pushing up the yield to 3.66%.

Gold and oil: The price of gold slipped 20 cents per ounce to $1,083.40. The price of oil rose 56 cents to $74.20 per barrel.

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