Stocks Poised to Open Higher

U.S. stocks were indicated to open higher Thursday as index futures rose in premarket trading. Traders weighed a report on weekly initial jobless claims, which were unchanged at 627,000; however, continuing claims rose to a record 4,987,000. Also, the January producer price index rose 0.8%, while the core rate, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 0.4%.

The market was awaiting the release of the Philadelphia Fed's manufacturing index for February, which was expected to rise to -23.0 from -24.3 the month before.

Treasuries were plunging, as was the dollar index. Gold futures were off. Oil futures were up before the Energy Dept.'s weekly inventory report.

On Wednesday, the 30-stock Dow Jones industrial average finished higher by 3.03 points, or 0.04%, at 7,555.63. The broad S&P 500 index fell 0.75 points, or 0.10%, to 788.42. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index declined 2.69 points, or 0.18%, to 1,467.97.

In economic news Thursday, the U.S. producer price index (PPI) rose 0.8% in January after a 1.9% drop in December, while the core rate, excluding food and fuel, jumped 0.4% from a 0.2% pace the month before. Both were much stronger than the 0.3% and 0.1% increases expected, respectively. While higher energy prices suggested a rise in headline producer prices, the big bounce in the core rate was a surprise. Energy prices rose 3.7% following a 9.3% drop in December. Consumer goods prices rose 1.0% after falling 2.6% the month before. Food prices fell 0.4% following a 1.5% decline in December.

While the inflation jump may help reduce deflation risks, a continued moderation in core inflation remains likely in 2009, according to S&P senior economist Beth Ann Bovino.

U.S. jobless claims were unchanged at 627,000 for the week ended Feb. 14, from a previous 623,000 print. Continuing claims were up 170,000 to 4,987,000 in the week ended Feb. 7, from a revised from 4,817,000 (previously 4,810,000), and are again the highest on record. The 4-week moving average rose to 619,000 from 608,500. Overall, the claims were about as-expected, though still showing distress in the jobs market, according to Action Economics.

Among companies in the news Thursday, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) posted $0.93 vs. $0.86 first-quarter non-GAAP EPS on a 1% revenue rise (+4% when adjusted for forex impact). The company sees a second-quarter revenue decline of 2%-3%, with non-GAAP EPS of $0.84-$0.86, and a fiscal 2009 revenue decline of 2%-5%, with non-GAAP EPS of $3.76-$3.88.

CBS Corp. (CBS) posted $0.20 vs. $0.43 fourth-quarter EPS on a 6.1% revenue decline. The company cut its quarterly dividend to $0.05 from $0.27. CBS's CEO called the dividend cut "wise and prudent." (PCLN) posted $1.29 vs. $0.96 fourth-quarter pro forma EPS on a 21% revenue rise. The company sees a first-quarter year-over-year increase in gross travel bookings of flat to 7.5%, a 5%-10% revenue rise, and $0.85-$0.95 pro forma EPS.

Whole Foods Market (WFMI) posted better-than-expected $0.20 vs. $0.28 first-quarter EPS on 4% lower same-store sales and flat total sales. The company sees fiscal 2009 EPS of $0.71-$0.76, based on an assumption of flat same-store sales. Wall Street is looking for EPS of $0.66.

CVS Caremark (CVS) posted $0.70 vs. $0.58 fourth-quarter adjusted EPS from continuing operations on 3.6% higher same-store sales, 4.5% higher pharmacy same-store sales, and 10% higher total sales.

Walt Disney Co. (DIS) says it will lay off an unspecified number of workers as it restructures its U.S. theme parks in the wake of declines in attendance and revenue.

The market-research firm NPD Group said Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) unit sales of computers through U.S. retail channels fell 6% in January from the same month in 2008, the first monthly decline in three years, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

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