Updated from 7 a.m. EST
Here are 10 things you should know for Thursday, March 6:
1.-- U.S. stock futures rose Thursday and European shares were higher after the European Central Bank held interest rates steady.
Asian shares ended the session with gains. Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose 1.6%.
2.-- The economic calendar in the U.S. on Thursday includes weekly initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. EST, fourth-quarter productivity and unit labor costs at 8:30 a.m., and factory orders for January at 10 a.m.
3.-- U.S. stocks on Wednesday closed flat as investors digested disappointing U.S. services sector and private-payrolls reports. The Federal Reserve's Beige Book report from data compiled before Feb. 24 indicated that the economy generally grew despite a slowdown in hiring due to the severe weather that swept across much of the country. The S&P 500 settled down 0.01% at 1,873.81 while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.22% to 16,360.18. The Nasdaq rose 0.14% to 4,357.97.4.-- Private-equity firm Cerberus Capital Management is working to complete a deal to buy Safeway (SWY - Get Report) this week, though its efforts to do so have been complicated by supermarket giant Kroger (KR), The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people familiar with the matter. Cerberus owns the Albertsons supermarkets chain. It was hoping earlier this week to lock up a deal to acquire Safeway by now, the people told the Journal. But Kroger, Safeway's larger rival, is now considering a bid of its own for all or part of Safeway, the people told the newspaper. Cerberus is still seen as likelier to emerge with a deal for Safeway, in part because of antitrust risk associated with any proposed tie-up with Kroger, they said, the Journal reported.
Kroger is expected on Thursday to post fourth-quarter earnings of 72 a cents a share. 5.-- Staples (SPLS) reported fourth-quarter earnings from operations of 33 cents a share compared with 14 cents a share a year earlier, and said it planned to close 225 stores by 2015.
Sales of $8.57 billion in the quarter fell from $6.57 billion a year earlier, the largest U.S. office supplies retailer said Thursday.
Staples shares fell 10.5% in premarket trading Thursday to $12.
6. -- Costco (COST - Get Report), the warehouse retailer, said fiscal second-quarter earnings fell 15%, missing analysts' estimates, on lower profit from its international operations and weaker gross margins in non-foods merchandise. Sales rose 6% $25.76 billion; analysts estimated sales of $26.65 billion. Same-store sales rose 3% during the quarter.
The stock fell 2.1% to $114 in premarket trading.
7. -- Deutsche Telekom said on Thursday it would be open to a potential consolidation in the U.S. mobile market but that at the same time it had no concerns about running its T-Mobile USA (TMUS) business, Reuters reported. "All our actions in the U.S. are to add value. At the moment we have no difficulties to run T-Mobile US on a stand-alone basis," Deutsche Telekom's CEO Tim Hoettges said at a news conference. "If a consolidation in the U.S. mobile market will take place, we will enter that phase with an open mind," he added. 8. -- GM (GM) raised discounts in February on its full-size pickups, but it is telling Wall Street analysts that it intends to maintain premium pricing and margins on the trucks despite a drop in volume and market share, Reuters reported. A key message to analysts from Chuck Stevens, the automaker's new chief financial officer, who was dispatched to New York to update Wall Street analysts on the automaker's financial outlook, was that GM remains focused on maintaining pricing "discipline," especially on the hugely profitable full-size pickups in a highly combustible and fluid U.S. market, Reuters said. 9. -- Darden Restaurants (DRI) canceled its annual analyst meeting, opting instead to meet directly with shareholders and investors. The restaurant operator, which owns chains such as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze, confirmed the decision Wednesday. It comes only days after the company announced plans for major changes to some of its brands and amid ongoing pressure from activist investors.
Darden shares rose 1.1% to $48.48 in premarket trading. 10.-- Prime ministers in the Crimea, a region of Ukraine, voted Thursday to become part of the Russian Federation.
A referendum on the status of Crimea will be held March 16, according to reports. Ukraine's prime minister told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Crimea would remain part of Ukraine. -- Written by Joseph Woelfel
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