Stocks: Expect a choppy day

May 18, 2011: 8:47 AM ET
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NEW YORK(CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were poised to open little changed Wednesday, with tech shares gaining attention on the heels of Dell's stellar results.

But any gains could be tempered and trading could be choppy as investors remain worried about the economy. Investors may get some insight into what the Federal Reserve is thinking when the minutes from the last policy meeting are release later in the day.

"It is hard to find what the catalyst is going to be," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott.

Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were little changed ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

Stocks closed mixed on Tuesday as investors digested a weak outlook from Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500), a grim read on the housing market and an unexpected drop in April industrial production.

Tech stocks will be in focus again on Wednesday.

The lack of substantial economic news along with some big tech financial reports has "reinvigorated investors' focus on company news," said Luschini.

Dell (DELL, Fortune 500) reported record earnings, even as PC sales slumped. The PC slump is worrisome but Dell's enterprise customers, who make up 80% of the company's sales, continued to refresh their old computers. Dell's stock jumped more than 6% in premarket trade.

Luschini said retailer's results "will be indicative of what kind of spending power the consumer has."

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Trading has been volatile over the past two weeks, as commodities pull back from recent highs and investors brace for the conclusion of the Federal Reserve's $600 billion bond-buying program at the end of June.

Meanwhile, the U.S. hit its debt ceiling on Monday and Congress continues to battle about the budget.

Economy: In the afternoon, investors will turn their attention to minutes from the Federal Reserve's April meeting for hints on how the Fed will bring its stimulus program known as QE2 to a close.

Because Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke gave a press conference at the conclusion of the last meeting, "it probably took a little thunder out" of the release of the minutes, commented Luschini.

Companies: Target (TGT, Fortune 500) posted earnings per share of 99 cents, up 9.8% from the same quarter a year ago. Shares were little changed in premarket trade.

Office supply giant Staples (SPLS, Fortune 500) reported a 2% rise in sales to $6.2 billion, and net income rose of $198 million. The results were just shy of forecasts and the company issued a tepid outlook, sending shares of down nearly 6% in premarket trading.

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Deere & Co. (DE, Fortune 500) reported a 25% jump in sales to $8.9 billion, citing strong demand for large farm machinery, particularly in the United States, Canada and Brazil. Shares fell more than 1% in premarket trade.

World markets: European stocks rallied in mid day trading. Britain's FTSE 100 was up 0.8%, the DAX in Germany rose 0.6% and France's CAC 40 was up 1%.

Asian markets ended higher. The Shanghai Composite added 0.7%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong added 0.5% and Japan's Nikkei rose 1%.

Currencies and commodities: The dollar edged lower against the euro and the Japanese yen, but gained on the British pound.

Oil for June delivery added $1.22, or 1.3%, to $98.13 a barrel.

Gold futures for June delivery rose $11.20, or 0.8%, to $1491.20 an ounce.

Silver futures for July delivery rose 97 cents, or 2.9%, to $34.46.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury was little changed and the yield was 3.11%.  To top of page

Index Last Change % Change
Dow 32,627.97 -234.33 -0.71%
Nasdaq 13,215.24 99.07 0.76%
S&P 500 3,913.10 -2.36 -0.06%
Treasuries 1.73 0.00 0.12%
Data as of 6:29am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Ford Motor Co 8.29 0.05 0.61%
Advanced Micro Devic... 54.59 0.70 1.30%
Cisco Systems Inc 47.49 -2.44 -4.89%
General Electric Co 13.00 -0.16 -1.22%
Kraft Heinz Co 27.84 -2.20 -7.32%
Data as of 2:44pm ET
Overnight Avg Rate Latest Change Last Week
30 yr fixed3.80%3.88%
15 yr fixed3.20%3.23%
5/1 ARM3.84%3.88%
30 yr refi3.82%3.93%
15 yr refi3.20%3.23%
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