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  • Before the bell: U.S. stocks were poised to open lower Wednesday as worries about European debt underpinned sentiment, with Spain being the latest country to face a possible downgrade.
Market news
15.12.2010, 14:22

Before the bell: U.S. stocks were poised to open lower Wednesday as worries about European debt underpinned sentiment, with Spain being the latest country to face a possible downgrade.

Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were down about 0.2% to 0.3% ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

On Tuesday, U.S. stocks eased off earlier gains but finished higher. Investors found little reason to jump into the fray, after the Federal Reserve kept rates steady and left its bond-buying plan alone. The Fed stated in its report that "progress toward its objectives has been disappointingly slow."

The Fed's announcement was largely expected. "It goes back to Bernanke's interview a couple Sundays ago," said Michael Gault, senior portfolio strategist at Weiser Capital Management. "He has really been pounding his fist saying that unemployment is the number one priority right now."

The Fed will continue to keep rates low and pursue its quantitative easing program until "the country can stand on its own," Gault explained.

Stocks have been on a pretty solid run. All three major indexes have gained about 5% this month, and are up more than 6% for the quarter. Stocks are on track for double-digit percentage gains for the year.

Additionally, investors have been waiting for Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. While market watchers expect the deal to pass, the waiting has had investors slightly on edge. The compromise passed a key test Monday, and is expected to get Senate approval later Wednesday.

Economy: The U.S. consumer price index -- the government's main inflation gauge -- is expected to show that prices rose 0.2% in November, matching their increase in October. Economists surveyed by Briefing.com expect prices, excluding food and energy, to have inched up 0.1%.

Other economic reports on tap before the market opens include the Empire State manufacturing survey, and government data on industrial production and capacity utilization.

While investors will look for any major outliers in the economic reports due out Wednesday, the government's update on the unemployment filings due out Thursday is more interesting, according to Gault. "Investors are focused on jobs week in, week out." Also, the report on housing starts due out Thursday will get some attention.

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