What to watch today: Wall Street looks steady ahead of expected Fed pivot

U.S. stocks futures pointed to a steady open ahead of the Federal Reserve's widely expected Wednesday afternoon announcement of a faster tapering of its bond purchases. Tech stocks once again led Wall Street lower Tuesday, with the Nasdaq dropping another 1.1% after a nearly 1.4% decline Monday. The S&P 500 and the Dow fell for the second straight session Tuesday after another hot inflation report. (CNBC)

The government said before-the-bell Wednesday that November retail sales rose just 0.3% from the prior month, only about a third of the expected advance. The slowing sales growth came against the backdrop of higher prices and reports of earlier holiday shopping. The October increase was revised slightly higher to a 1.8% increase. (Commerce Department)

* Mortgage refinances fizzle as interest rates resume their climb (CNBC)

Retail sales are the last major economic report as central bankers head into the final day of their two-day December meeting. The Fed's expected accelerated tapering could set the stage for its first hike in Covid-era near-zero interest rates. The central bank is also likely to provide a new description of how it views inflation, acknowledging it no longer sees inflation as transitory. (CNBC)

IN THE NEWS TODAY

House Democrats passed a debt ceiling increase with one Republican vote, sending the measure to President Joe Biden early Wednesday. The Senate, also controlled by Democrats, approved the increase to the nation's borrowing limit along party lines Tuesday afternoon. Once signed, the resolution would raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion, probably enough to get through next year's midterm election. (CNBC)

The Covid omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa about a month ago, now makes up about 3% of cases sequenced in the U.S., according to CDC data. While delta remains the dominant strain in the U.S., the agency said that the highly mutated omicron variant is spreading quickly. (CNBC)

Responding to a Washington Post report about a possible "massive wave" of omicron infections as soon as January, the CDC said in a statement that the scenario described was among several discussed at a regularly scheduled meeting with public health officials.

Lowe's (LOW) shares fell Wednesday after the company's sales outlook disappointed investors and raised concerns that the pandemic-fueled boom in do-it-yourself and decorating projects is cooling. Shares were down about 2% in premarket trading. (CNBC)

Eli Lilly (LLY) raised its 2022 profit and revenue forecast ahead of today's meeting with the investment community, noting it's on track to meet its goal of delivering 20 new treatments in the 10-year period through 2023. Lilly rose 4.7% in the premarket. (Reuters)

Vir Biotechnology (VIR) rallied 4.3% in the premarket, putting it in position to rise for a fifth straight day. The drugmaker announced further data showing that its Covid antibody therapy, developed in partnership with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), was effective against the omicron variant. (Reuters)

STOCKS TO WATCH

Toyota (TM) gained 2.2% in premarket trading, after announcing it would produce a record 800,000 vehicles in January. Toyota is ramping up output to make up for prior production lost to parts shortages.

RR Donnelley (RRD) agreed to be acquired by Chatham Asset Management, the printing company's top shareholder, for about $897 million. Donnelley terminated an earlier buyout deal it reached with private equity firm Atlas Holdings after determining that Chatham's bid was a "superior proposal." The stock fell 2.8% in the premarket.

CMC Materials (CCMP) agreed to be acquired by rival Entegris (ENTG) in a cash-and-stock deal. Based on Tuesday's closing prices, the transaction is worth $197.53 per CMC share, compared with CMC's Tuesday close of $145.97. CMC rose more than 25% and Entegris fell 3% in the premarket.

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