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Stock Futures Signal Decline in U.S.

Stock index futures were pointing to a decline at the open Wednesday as traders dealt with an uneven round of earnings reports while gearing up for crucial inflationary data.

S&P 500 futures were dropping 5 points to 1400 and were roughly 4 points below fair value. Futures on the Nasdaq 100 were down about 4 points to 2001 and were more than 4 points under fair value.

A bit later, the Labor Department will release its consumer price index, which should proffer clues into the rate of U.S. inflation, which has been closely watched amid ballooning commodities prices. The government is also scheduled to release its weekly crude-stockpile report at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

On the equities side, among the early winners was mortgage buyer Freddie Mac (FRE), which said its first-quarter loss narrowed to $151 million, or 66 cents a share, from the prior quarter's loss of $3.97 a share. The stock rose 7.2% before the opening bell.

However, chipmaking-equipment seller Applied Materials (AMAT) slipped 0.6% early after reporting dwindling earnings. Revenue nonetheless topped analyst expectations. In a conference call, CEO Mike Splinter predicted more softness in chip-related spending, but predicted that "this is the bottom."

Electronic Arts (ERTS), a video-game publisher, offered a weaker full-year profit outlook than that targeted by Wall Street. The company also came in well ahead of expectations for the fiscal fourth quarter with adjusted earnings of $30 million, or 9 cents a share, on 50% higher sales. Still, shares lost ground in after-hours trading.

Away from the tech patch, Whole Foods (WFMI) took a plunge in the last night's extended session after the organic-foods mart said costs from its Wild Oats buyout ate into its fiscal second-quarter profit, which slid 13%, even as revenue soared by 27.6%. Same-store sales, or those from locations open a year or more, climbed 6.7%.

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