Stocks: Caution ahead of earnings

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After a big bout of volatility, stock markets were looking soft Tuesday as investors wait for the next round of quarterly results.

U.S. stock futures were mixed. Any big surprises during the latest round of earnings reports could take markets on another wild ride.

Coca-Cola (CCE) and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) are among the main companies reporting before the open. Intel (INTC) and Yahoo! (YHOO) will report after the close.

Much of the choppiness in the markets has been driven by reactions to earnings and fluctuations in so-called "momentum stocks", the tech and biotech companies that had an incredible run in the past year, but have fallen sharply in recent days.

But now, investors are likely taking a more realistic approach as they focus on individual earnings reports, as well as economic data such as the upcoming inflation report, said Art Hogan, chief market strategist for Wunderlich Securities.

"We're moving into the heart of earnings season now," he said."We've got a lot of financial reporting this week. The bars are set low enough that earnings expectations are in line with reality."

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In economic news, the U.S. government will release the monthly consumer price index at 8:30 a.m. ET. At 9 a.m., investors will see the latest monthly Treasury data on international capital flows.

U.S. stocks closed higher Monday after a choppy day of trading, snapping a two-day losing streak that roiled the markets. The Nasdaq finished up 0.6%, while the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 closed just shy of 1% gains. All three indexes are still down for the year.

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European markets were lower in midday trading, with tension in Ukraine weighing on sentiment. Germany's DAX fell 0.8%.

"Ukraine has the ability to disrupt the entire focus on this market if it escalates," said Hogan, though he said that Wall Street is more focused on earnings season for now.

Asian markets closed with mixed results. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong was the biggest mover for the day, dropping by 1.6%.

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