Stocks headed for quiet start

By staff

NEW YORK ( -- Stocks were poised to open on the higher side Monday at the start of a week full of corporate results, key economic reports and the Federal Reserve meeting.

Dow Jones industrial average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 futures were slightly higher ahead of the opening bell.

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

Stocks rallied Friday, with the Dow, Nasdaq and S&P 500 all ending at fresh 2010 highs, after a surprisingly strong new-home sales report.

There are no major economic reports due Monday, but the week ahead brings the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting on interest rates, reports on jobless claims, consumer confidence and gross domestic product.

"We will get a lot of news this week," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott. "Collectively, these are things investors can really sink their teeth into and get some insight into the fundamental outlook for the economy."

But many headwinds remain. Among them are Greece's debt issues, Wall Street reform and questions about whether the SEC's decision to charge Goldman Sachs (GS, Fortune 500) with fraud was just the tip of the iceberg.

Earnings: After a series of better-than-expected earnings reports, many investors are optoimistic about this week's numbers. The week brings results from 164 companies in the S&P 500.

"It would take a significant disappointment to douse the market with cold water," said Luschini.

Heavy-machinery maker Caterpillar (CAT, Fortune 500) is scheduled to report first-quarter results before the market opens Monday. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expect the Dow component to report a profit of 39 cents pre share, unchanged from a year ago.

Roughly 83% of S&P 500 company earnings have topped estimates, with growth currently forecast to have risen 50% from a year earlier, according to the latest from Thomson Reuters. Revenue growth is expected to have risen 11% from a year ago.

Companies: Hertz (HTZ, Fortune 500) announced plans to buy Dollar Thrifty in a $1.2 billion cash and stock deal that combines two of the most prominent players in the car rental business.

Toyota Motor said production soared more than 80% in March compared to year-ago levels, despite the recall of some 10 million vehicles in recent months.

World markets: European markets rose in active trading. Shares in Paris and Frankfurt both gained more than 1%, while London was up about 0.7%.

In Asia, stocks mostly rallied. The Nikkei in Japan gained over 2%, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong closed up 1.6%.

Other markets: The dollar fell against the euro but rose versus the pound and yen.

The price of oil rose 27 cents to $85.39 a barrel. Gold prices gained $2.40 to $1,155.50 an ounce.

Bond prices rose, with they yield on the 10-year Treasury note at 3.81%.  To top of page

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