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Futures Head Higher as Traders Eye Jobless Claims, Consumer Spending

Shrugging off

yesterday’s bearish turn

, futures on all three major market indexes are trading north of
breakeven this morning. High hopes for today’s deluge of economic
data — with such notables as weekly jobless claims, consumer
spending, and the Institute for Supply Management’s (
ISM

) manufacturing index on tap — seems to be stoking the bullish
flames. However, after effectively

tempering Wednesday’s early optimism

, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to begin his second day of
testimony on Capitol Hill at 10 a.m Eastern, leaving Wall Street a
bit cautious heading into the session. Ahead of a day chock-full of
information for investors to digest, the Dow Jones Industrial
Average (DJIA) is trading 27 points higher ahead of the bell, while
the broader SP 500 Index (SPX) is up 2 points.

Dow, SP and Nasdaq futures

In earnings news, Finisar Corporation (FNSR – 20.29) reported a
fiscal third-quarter profit of $8.9 million, or 9 cents per share,
a 53% drop from last year’s profit of $18.8 million, or 22 cents
per share. Excluding items, earnings fell to 23 cents per share,
while revenue declined 7.6% to $243 million. The bottom-line
results bested analysts’ expectations for an adjusted profit of 22
cents per share; however, revenue missed Wall Street’s forecast of
$245 million. Due to concerns about weak demand, FNSR provided a
conservative forecast for the current quarter, calling for adjusted
earnings of 18 cents to 22 cents per share, on a revenue range of
$235 million to $250 million. Analysts, meanwhile, were looking for
a fourth-quarter profit of 25 cents per share on $253 million in
sales. FNSR is bracing for a 9% drop right out of the gate.

Elsewhere, MBIA Inc. (MBI – 10.78) swallowed a fourth-quarter
loss of $626 million, or $3.23 per share, down sharply from its
year-ago earnings of $450.8 million, or $2.24 per share. The
recently concluded quarter included a substantial pretax loss of
$1.7 billion linked to insured credit derivatives. On an adjusted
basis, MBI’s loss narrowed to $252 million, while its adjusted book
value retreated 6% to $34.50 per share. “Including 2012 to date, we
have commuted or agreed to commute almost $24 billion of
potentially volatile liabilities since the end of the third
quarter,” reported President and Chief Financial Officer Chuck
Chaplin in a company release. MBI is down 2.6% in pre-market
trading.

Finally, PetSmart (PETM – 55.74) swung to a fourth-quarter
profit of $102 million, or 91 cents per share, up 13% from $90.3
million, or 77 cents per share, in the comparable quarter of 2010.
Meanwhile, net sales climbed 7.7% to $1.64 billion, boosted by a
5.5% increase in same-store sales. Analysts, on average, were
expecting earnings of 90 cents per share on sales of $1.62 billion.
Looking ahead, the retailer is forecasting a full-year profit of
$3.02 to $3.16 per share, outpacing Wall Street’s prediction for
earnings of $3.01 per share. PETM is 1.8% lower ahead of the
bell.

Earnings Preview

Today’s earnings docket will also feature reports from Big Lots
(
BIG

), James River Coal (
JRCC

), Foot Locker (
FL

), Kenneth Cole (
KCP

), Kroger (KR), Martha Stewart Living (MSO), Motricity (MOTR), PC
Mall (MALL), Vanguard Natural Resources (VNR), and Wendy’s (WEN).
Keep your browser at


SchaeffersResearch.com

for more news as it breaks.

Economic Calendar

Today’s round-up will include weekly jobless claims, personal
income and spending data, the ISM manufacturing index, and
construction spending. There are no major economic reports
scheduled to be released on Friday.

Market Statistics

Equity option activity on the Chicago Board Options Exchange
(CBOE) saw 1,250,275 call contracts traded on Wednesday, compared
to 841,895 put contracts. The resultant single-session put/call
ratio arrived at 0.67, while the 21-day moving average was
0.61.

NYSE and Nasdaq summary

Volatility indices

Overseas Trading

Stocks in Asia ended lower today, as traders scaled back their
expectations for another round of monetary easing from the U.S.
Fed. The day’s economic news also sparked some jitters, as dueling
purchasing managers index (PMI) readings out of China and Hong Kong
suggested that regional factory activity is treading a fine line
between expansion and contraction. Meanwhile, in Tokyo, a resurgent
yen applied pressure to exporters. By the close, Hong Kong’s Hang
Seng shed 1.4%, Japan’s Nikkei gave up 0.2%, and China’s Shanghai
Composite retreated 0.1%. Markets in South Korea are closed for
holiday.

On the other hand, the major European benchmarks are pointed
higher at midday. Traders are taking a glass-half-full view of
Markit’s February PMI reading of 49.0, which showed the pace of
contraction hitting a six-month low. Bulls have also been pulled
off the sidelines by news that debt-burdened Italy availed itself
of 26% of the cheap loans offered by the European Central Bank
(ECB) in Wednesday’s refinancing operation. In fact, the yield on
Italy’s 10-year notes earlier dipped south of 5% for the first time
since last August. At last check, London’s FTSE 100 and the French
CAC 40 have gained 0.8% apiece, while the German DAX is 0.7%
higher.

Overseas markets

Currencies and Commodities

The greenback is trading lower this morning, with the U.S.
dollar index last seen 0.03% lower at $78.71. Crude oil continues
to edge higher, with the front-month contract up 0.2% at $107.23
per barrel. Shaking off

yesterday’s plunge

, gold futures have tacked on 0.2% to trade at $1,713.90 an
ounce.

Currencies and commodities

Unusual Put and Call Activity:

For an explanation of how to use this information, check out our

Education Center

topics on
Option Volume

and
Open Interest Configurations

.

Unusual options activity - puts

Unusual options activity - calls

Every morning, our research staff analyzes the prior day
and the overnight markets, and monitors the morning wires to
give you an accurate preview of the day to come. If you enjoyed
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