Dow Flat Ahead of Morgan Stanley Earnings

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

After a blockbuster day for economic data yesterday -- both jobless claims and housing starts were better than expected -- today's economic calendar is virtually empty, with only January's University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index to look forward to at 9:55 a.m. EST. Consensus forecasts suggest the index will rise to 74.2, up from 72.9 in December.

However, earnings season will continue to gather momentum today. General Electric reported fourth-quarter earnings of $0.44 per share on revenue of $39.3 billion this morning, beating consensus forecasts of $0.43 per share. Schlumberger reported earnings of $1.08 per share, matching expectations, while SunTrust Banks reported net income of $0.65 per share -- more than four times the $0.13 per share reported for the same period last year. Also due to report this morning are Morgan Stanley, McMoRan Exploration, State Street, Johnson Controls and Rockwell Collins.

Other shares that may be actively traded today include AT&T after the company warned of a $10 billion fourth-quarter charge due to pension obligations, as well as Intel, which could be in focus after announcing downbeat forecasts and increased spending plans for 2013 in its quarterly update yesterday. Intel stock was down nearly 5% in premarket trading, while AT&T was 1.3% lower.

European markets
European markets received an early boost from the overnight news that China's GDP rose by 7.9% on an annualized basis during the last quarter of 2012, beating expectations of a 7.8% gain and providing the first increase in growth for more than two years.

At 7:45 a.m. EST, the DAX was down 0.14%, the CAC 40 was flat, the FTSE MIB was down 0.54%, and the IBEX 35 was down less than 0.1%. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) was up 0.46%, helped by a 4% gain for iron and steel producer Evraz, which reported its fourth-quarter results this morning. Other strong risers included cruise ship operator Carnival, up 2.6%, and megaminer Rio Tinto, which was up by 2%, suggesting that investors had already discounted the writedowns announced yesterday and were more focused on the improving picture for iron ore demand.

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