Dow Poised for Strong Start as Lowe's Beats Estimates

LONDON -- Stock index futures at 7 a.m. EST indicate that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) may open up by 0.41% this morning, while the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX: ^GSPC  ) may open 0.5% higher.

Today's economic calendar is limited to some state-level Fed manufacturing surveys, meaning that investors might look at overseas developments more keenly than usual. Stories that may be of interest include the loss of the United Kingdom's "AAA" credit rating, which was downgraded to "AA1" by Moody's, and the likely appointment of Haruhiko Kuroda as the next head of the Bank of Japan. Kuroda is known to be a firm supporter of monetary-easing policies.

Another story that will play out on Monday afternoon and Tuesday is the outcome of Italy's general election, which could result in victory for an anti-austerity coalition led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. A victory for Berlusconi would be a potential threat to the stability of eurozone markets, as Berlusconi has threatened to abandon various austerity measures and tax hikes implemented by interim Prime Minister Mario Monti.

In corporate news, home improvement retailer Lowe's Companies (NYSE: LOW  ) published fourth-quarter earnings this morning. The company reported a 5% fall in fourth-quarter sales to $11.05 billion and an 11% drop in fourth-quarter earnings, which remained static at $0.26 per share due to the effects of share buybacks. Lowe's also announced that it had authorized further share buybacks that could total up to $5 billion. Despite the falls in sales and earnings, Lowe's beat analysts' consensus forecasts, which had predicted sales of $10.85 billion and earnings of $0.23 per share. Lowe's shares fell 1.4% in premarket trading this morning.

Other companies due to report before markets open this morning include Hertz, Cooper Tire & Rubber, FirstEnergy, Allied Nevada Gold, and Donaldson. Companies due to report later today include Titan International, Autodesk, and Caesars Entertainment.

European markets
Markets rose strongly this morning, shrugging off news that the U.K.'s credit rating had been downgraded and failing to show any concern over the general-election outcome in Italy.

At 7:30 a.m. EST, the DAX was up 2.2%, the CAC 40 was up 1.85%, the FTSE MIB was up 2.25%, and the IBEX 35 was up 1.7%. In London, the FTSE 100 (FTSEINDICES: ^FTSE  ) was 1.3% higher, led by strong gains for Royal Bank of Scotland Group, which was up 3.7% on reports that it might float its U.S. unit, Citizens. Moving down was publishing group Pearson, which slid 5.6% after announcing a 150 million pound restructuring program and a downbeat outlook in its full-year results.

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