Stocks: Looking for direction

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Earnings are back in focus Friday.

AOL (AOL) shares swelled more than 7% after the web portal reported revenue growth for the first time in eight years. Fourth quarter profits were in line with expectations.

Credit ratings agency Moody's (MCO) also reported profits that met expectations. Still, shares edged downward in premarket trading on worries that the government might sue the firm over its ratings of mortgage securities, as it did rival Standard & Poor's earlier this week.

The trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, down from $48.6 billion the previous month, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Data on wholesale inventories is due at 10 a.m.

U.S. stock futures were little changed ahead of the open. Friday marks the end of a sluggish week for stocks, the kind that typically follows a rally like the one markets have had since the start of 2013. The Dow and S&P 500 have risen sharply, both up about 6% and near their all-time highs. The Nasdaq gained nearly 5% in that time period.

European markets got an early lift from data showing healthy growth in Chinese imports and exports last month, even as price pressures subsided.

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U.S. stocks slipped Thursday, as investors digested mixed economic news and a slew of earnings reports.

Shares of LinkedIn (LNKD) continued to surge, up 10% in premarket trading, a day after the online network targeted to professionals reported a spike in membership, and handily beat earnings and revenue estimates for the fourth quarter.

Asian markets ended mixed. Japan's Nikkei lost 1.8%, amid worries voiced by Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso that the yen has weakened more than the government had hoped. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2% and the Shanghai Composite increased 0.6% in the final day of trading before an extended Chinese New Year holiday.

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