Dow Poised for Opening Gains

LONDON -- Stock index futures at 7 a.m. EST indicate that that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) may open up by 0.2% this morning, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) may open 0.3% higher.

Markets may make a strong start this morning after overnight figures from China showed that exports rose by more than expected from the world's second-largest economy. Chinese exports rose by 14% in December compared with December 2011, outperforming analysts' expectations of a 5% gain.

Today's economic calendar includes the latest weekly initial jobless-claim figures, which are due at 8:30 a.m. EST and are expected to show a modest improvement from the previous week, dropping to 365,000 from 372,000, according to consensus estimates. Also due today are November's job-opening figures and wholesale inventories at 10 a.m. EST.

No S&P 500 companies are scheduled to report earnings today, but oil supermajor Chevron is due to release its fourth-quarter update ahead of its earnings release on Feb. 1. Other companies whose earnings may attract investor attention include SUPERVALU and MSC Industrial Direct, both of which are expected to release quarterly figures before market open.

Finally, Herbalife (NYSE: HLF  ) is expected to respond to hedge fund manager Bill Ackman's accusation that it is running a pyramid scheme. Herbalife shares rose sharply yesterday following the news that Dan Loeb's Third Point fund has taken a 8% long stake in the company. Ackman has a $1 billion short position on Herbalife, according to the The Wall Street Journal. The Securities and Exchange Commission has also announced an investigation into Herbalife.

European markets
In Europe, both the Bank of England and the European Central Bank are holding their monthly interest rate meetings this morning. No changes to either interest rates or fiscal-easing policies are expected, but ECB President Mario Draghi may shed some light on future plans in his post-meeting press conference.

Ahead of the meetings, markets lacked direction despite positive Chinese export figures and highly successful Spanish and Italian debt auctions. Following Spain's auction, the yield on Spanish 10-year government bonds dropped below 5% for the first time since March 2012, suggesting that Spain is benefiting from rising investor confidence.

At 7:30 a.m. EST, the DAX was up 0.23%, the CAC 40 was down 0.12%, the FTSE MIB was up 0.8%, and the IBEX 35 was at breakeven. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) was up 0.1%, held back by troubled clothing retailer Marks & Spencer Group, which fell 4.2% after a disappointing trading update. Near the top of the table, supermarket giant Tesco gained 2.3% on strong volume after it reported a better-than-expected Christmas season.

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