Dow Futures Rise as J.C. Penney Scrambles for Cash

Although we don't believe in timing the market or panicking over market movements, we do like to keep an eye on big changes -- just in case they're material to our investing thesis.

According to stock index futures as of 7:40 a.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI  ) will begin the trading day higher this morning, rising 35 points at the opening bell. The blue-chip index has closed lower in each of the last five sessions, but it still sits near its all-time high.

European shares were slightly lower on heavy volume as traders positioned themselves for a last-minute political scramble to fund the U.S. government into the new fiscal year that begins next week. Japan's Nikkei index jumped 1.2% higher overnight amid talk that the government might cut the corporate tax rate.

With those broader trends in mind, here are a few individual stock stories to watch in today's market.

Nike (NYSE: NKE  ) could see active trading today, as analysts expect it to book solid growth in its first report as a Dow component, set for release this afternoon. Nike should log $0.78 in profit -- a 22% boost over last year -- on quarterly sales of about $7 billion. Keep an eye on gross margin, which has improved lately as Nike's average selling prices tick higher. Still, rising raw-material and labor costs could push it down this quarter. Shares are unchanged in premarket trading.

Outside the Dow, J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) is in dire straits. The retailer may be looking to issue up to $1 billion in new shares, according to Reuters. At nearly half of J.C. Penney's current market cap, an offering of that size would be extremely dilutive to existing shareholders. Still, if you're holding the stock, dilution is the least of your worries. As of last month, Penney reported total liquidity of $1.85 billion and total debt of $5.82 billion, leaving it little room to maneuver if sales growth doesn't return during this holiday season. J.C. Penney shares are down 9% in premarket trading after falling 15% yesterday.

Hertz (NYSE: HTZ  ) shares look set to dip after the company ratcheted back its profit guidance. The company's investor presentation today includes a revised outlook of about $1.72 in full-year EPS versus the $1.87 Hertz expected back in February. Rental volumes have apparently come in much weaker than anticipated. Shares are down 9% in premarket trading.

Finally, McCormick (NYSE: MKC  ) reported earnings this morning that were a bit bland. The spice maker grew revenue by 4% and met Wall Street's expectations of $0.78 a share in profit. However, nearly all of that sales boost was due to acquisitions, rather than organic growth. The company also lowered its outlook for the rest of the year. Quick-service restaurants are seeing weaker traffic, which has hurt demand from McCormick's business clients. The company's shares are up 0.5% in premarket trading.

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