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Premarket: TSX headed for gains amid upbeat U.S. data

North American stock markets are set for a higher open, as U.S. employment and housing data this morning provided indications that the U.S. economic recovery is picking up some steam.

U.S. stock futures and European equity markets, which were mostly flat earlier this morning, are now firmly in positive territory. Crude oil and copper prices are also up modestly.

The CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, nicely sums up trading activity this week. The so-called "fear gauge" sank to nearly a five-year low on Wednesday, an indication of the general lack of momentum in either direction for the major indexes.

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But there will be excitement in the trading of several stocks today, including some key U.S. financial firms that are reporting earnings, as well as Intel Corp., which will after market close provide the first big reading on quarterly results from the tech sector. Boeing will be under pressure again after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded flights of 787 Dreamliners late Wednesday. We detail the latest corporate action below in our stocks to watch section.

Also worth monitoring in the wee hours of Friday morning is China's fourth-quarter GDP report. Expectations are for a 7.8 per cent year-over-year-rise, up from 7.4 per cent the prior quarter.

Now, here's a closer look at what else you need to know this morning:

MARKETS:

Equities:

U.S. futures: S&P 500 +0.3 per cent; Dow +0.2 per cent; Nasdaq +0.4 per cent

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index -0.07 per cent

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Shanghai composite index -1.06 per cent

Japan's Nikkei +0.09 per cent

London's FTSE 100 +0.21 per cent

Germany's DAX +0.35 per cent

France's CAC 40 +0.98 per cent

Commodities:

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WTI (Nymex Mar) +0.50 per cent at $95.15 (U.S.) a barrel

Gold (Comex Feb) -0.06 per cent at $1,682.20 (U.S.) an ounce

Copper (Comex Mar) +0.53 per cent at $3.63 (U.S.) a pound

Currencies:

Canadian dollar up 0.0008, or 0.09 per cent, at $1.0146 (U.S.)

ECONOMIC INDICATORS TO WATCH:

Statistics Canada said Canadians bought $7.81-billion of foreign securities in November, while foreigners bought $5.62-billion of Canadian securities.

The U.S. Commerce Department said housing starts jumped to a 954,000 annual rate in December, the highest in four years and up from 890,000 the previous month. Building permits were at 903,000. Both figures were in line with analysts' forecasts.

U.S. new jobless claims for last week fell to 335,000 from 371,000. Economists were looking for a number closer to 368,000.

(1000 a.m. ET) Philadelphia Fed Survey is released for January and its general business conditions index. Economists look for a reading of 6.0, down from 8.1 the previous month, but their forecasts range widely.

STOCKS TO WATCH:

Boeing Co. shares are down 2.4 per cent in the premarket after the Federal Aviation Administration grounded flights of 787 Dreamliners late Wednesday.

Sun Life Financial Inc. and Malaysian state investor Khazanah are buying the Malaysian insurance joint venture of Britain's No.2 insurer Aviva PLC and lender CIMB Group for $586-million.

Rio Tinto Ltd. chief executive officer Tom Albanese resigned on Thursday and revealed a $14-billion writedown in connection with his two most significant acquisitions, Canada's Alcan aluminium group and Mozambican coal. U.S.-listed shares are down 0.4 per cent in the premarket.

Bank of America Corp. earned $700-million (U.S.), or 3 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with a profit of $2-billion, or 15 cents per share, in the same period a year ago. The earnings appeared to be about 1 cent better than estimates but shares in the premarket are down 0.6 per cent.

Citigroup Inc. shares are down 3 per cent in premarket trading after reporting earnings per share of 69 cents, missing analysts' expectations for 96 cents.

H&R Real Estate Investment Trust announced a friendly $28 per share offer for Primaris Retail Real Estate Investment Trust, just above a hostile $26-a-share bid put forward in December by a consortium led by KingSett Capital.

Herbalife Ltd. shares are down nearly 3 per cent in the premarket despite the company, heavily sold short by hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, raising fourth-quarter guidance to just above consensus. It also said it expects to begin repurchasing stock under its existing buyback program.

EBay shares are up 2.6 per cent in the premarket after the company late Wednesday reported holiday sales that just beat Wall Street expectations but gave a cautious outlook for 2013.

Other earnings today include American Express Co.; BlackRock Inc.; Capital One Financial Corp.; Fifth Third Bancorp;  Intel Corp.; and United Health Group Inc.

THIS MORNING'S TOP INVESTING READS ON THE WEB:

Four leading indicators of major market tops suggest the bull market is on shaky ground.

The "January barometer" indicator suggests the first trading week of the year foreshadows what's to come. Don't believe it.

Why Apple's slide isn't anything unusual for the tech giant's stock.

How a leveraged buyout could actually turn Dell into the tech success story of the decade.

Five rules about value stocks that can make you money.

Why you should still board Boeing's 787.

Away from the bond markets, and out of view from the stock markets, foreign exchange trading is beginning to show some promising signals that investors are growing more comfortable with risk.

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The premarket report is constantly updated to reflect the latest news developments and market moves. For instant headlines on breaking economic and corporate news in the premarket, follow Darcy Keith on Twitter at @eyeonequities

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About the Author
Investment Editor

Darcy Keith is The Globe and Mail's Investment Editor. He has been a business journalist since 1992 and joined the Report on Business in 2010 from Yahoo! Canada, where he was the senior editor of finance. More

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