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Before the bell: Stock rally stalls as Ukraine crisis plays out

The Before the Bell report is constantly updated to reflect the latest news developments and market moves in the premarket. Check back later for updates.

Tuesday's stock market rally that brought the S&P 500 to a record high has stalled, as market players reassess their positioning in the wake of this week's volatile, geopolitical-dominated trading.

U.S. and Canadian stock futures are flat, European indexes are trading modestly in the red, and commodity prices are seeing little movement.

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After a sudden drop in equity values on Monday on fears East-West tensions could escalate on Russia taking operational control of the Crimean peninsula, markets rebounded on Tuesday as President Vladimir Putin said there was no immediate need to invade eastern Ukraine.

Now, market players appear content to remain on the sidelines as the still-unresolved drama plays out. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Paris today. Russia's benchmark stock index today fell 1.1 per cent, after rallying 5.3 per cent on Tuesday. For the week, the index is still down 7.2 per cent.

Asian stocks were mixed overnight, with Shanghai's index dropping nearly 0.9 per cent as the country announced a growth target of 7.5 per cent in 2014. That would be unchanged from last year and 2012, and some observers are skeptical that target is achievable in the face of slowing growth in the manufacturing sector and ballooning debt levels in the country.

Now, here's a closer look at what's going on this morning and what is still to come.

MARKETS:

Equities:

Futures: S&P 500 +0.14 per cent; Dow +0.13 per cent; Nasdaq +0.17; S&P Toronto +0.10 per cent

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Hong Kong's Hang Seng -0.34 per cent

Shanghai composite index -0.89 per cent

Japan's Nikkei +1.20 per cent

London's FTSE 100 -0.66 per cent

Germany's DAX -0.38 per cent

France's CAC 40 -0.38 per cent

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Commodities:

WTI crude oil (Nymex Apr) -0.37 per cent at $102.95 (U.S.) a barrel

Gold (Comex Apr) -0.10 per cent at $1,336.50 (U.S.) an ounce

Copper (Comex May) +0.08 per cent at $3.22 (U.S.) a pound

Currencies:

Canadian dollar at 90.28 (U.S.), vs. 90.09 at Tuesday's North American close.

U.S. dollar index up 0.001 at 80.16

Bonds:

U.S. 10-year Treasury yield 2.70 per cent, down 0.005

ECONOMIC INDICATORS:

U.S. ADP private employment report showed 139,000 new jobs in February, less than the 150,000 expected.

(10 a.m. ET) Canada announces its latest interest rate decision. It's widely expected to remain unchanged.

(10 a.m. ET) Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for February. It's expected to fall to 53.5 from 54.0 the month prior.

(2 p.m. ET) Federal Reserve releases Beige Book, its latest reading on economic conditions.

STOCKS TO WATCH:

USEC filed for bankruptcy after struggling with weak prices for the enriched uranium it supplies to nuclear power plants and difficulties in financing a major project. Shares have plunged 53 per cent in the premarket.

Canadian Solar warned of a drop in current-quarter revenue as about $100-million in sales were deferred after a severe winter in North America delayed construction of power plants. Shares are down about 5 per cent in the premarket.

Torstar reported that adjusted earnings declined by 1 cent to 48 cents, beating the Street consensus by 9 cents. Quarterly revenue from its media business fell nearly 7 per cent, mainly due to weak print advertising.

Other earnings include: AlarmForce Industries; Big Lots; Catalyst Paper; Chartwell Retirement Residences; Easyhome Energy; Essential Energy Services; Great Canadian Gaming; Laurentian Bank; Linamar; PetSmart; NorthWest Healthcare; Points International; TransGlobe Energy; Trinidad Drilling; Savanna Energy; Veresen.

ANALYST ACTIONS:

Desjardins Securities hiked its price target on Wajax to $38 (Canadian) from $33 and maintained a "hold" rating.

Beacon Research raised its price target on ProMetic Life Sciences to $3.50 (Canadian) from $1.50 and maintained a "buy" rating.

Cantor Fitzgerald Canada raised its price target on Ur-Energy to $2.85 (Canadian) from $2 and maintained a "buy" rating.

BMO Nesbitt Burns upgraded 21st Century Fox to "outperform" from "market perform" and hiked its target to $40 (U.S.) from $33.

B. Riley downgraded Staples to "neutral" from "buy" and cut its price target to $15 (U.S.) from $18.

MKM Partners upgraded Pandora to "neutral" from "sell" with a price target of $39 (U.S.)

RBC Dominion Securities upgraded Ericsson to "outperform" from "sector perform" with a price target of $16 (U.S.).

Cowen upgraded Smith & Wesson Holding to "outperform" from "market perform" with a price target of $16 (U.S.).

THIS MORNING'S TOP INVESTING LINKS:

U.S. corporate insider bearishness is at pre-2008 crash levels.

Top 10 buys and sells of Morningstar's ultimate stock pickers.

For contrarians, or anyone who likes a bargain, this crisis is making Russian stocks look very, very cheap.

There's extra risk in equal-weighted strategies that tends to get shuffled into the background in the hype surrounding this and other so-called Smart Beta Strategies.

You need a strong stomach to be a value investor.

A warning about the soaring popularity of junk bonds.

Don't bet on the predictive power of financial metrics of companies.

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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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