High Housing Starts Add to Rate Chatter

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By Justin Lahart
Staff Reporter

One more strike in the "to raise rates" column: April

housing starts

came in at 1.473 million -- ahead of consensus estimates of 1.42 million.

"Stocks look mixed to a little easier on the housing starts," says one trader.

Ahead of the bell, the

S&P 500

futures are down 1.45. That's slightly below fair value. The 30-year Treasury bond is down 7/32 at 96 22/32, driving the yield to 6.89%.

Today is also a double-witching, the expiration of certain futures and options, which could add some volatility, though much of the expiration action has already been shaken out of the market this week, according to one trader. "A lot of the volume you saw this week was option-related," he says.

Dow

-component

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

looks set to face some serious pressure today. The granddaddy of Silicon Valley reported second-quarter earnings of 75 cents a share last night, a nickel lower than

First Call

consensus estimates. It's trading on

Reuters Instinet

at 53 3/8, 5 1/2 below last night's close.

AirTouch Communications

(ATI) - Get Report

will acquire

US West Media Group's

(UMG)

domestic wireless services. The companies value the deal at about $5 billion dollars.

St. Jude Medical

(STJ)

CFO Stephen Wilson is leaving. The company also said that it will begin looking for a president and COO.

After the close yesterday,

Autodesk

(ADSK) - Get Report

reported first-quarter earnings of 10 cents a share, after charges. That's in line with First Call estimates.

Japan stocks moved higher with domestic issues, which aren't negatively impacted by the weakened dollar (and, if they buy supplies in dollar denominations, may actually see some savings), posting gains. The

Nikkei

closed up 268.42 at 20,324.73.

Down much of the day, Hong Kong stocks moved higher late-day, and managed to push into the black column. The

Hang Seng

rose 20.47 to close at 14,062.37.

Wall Street's gains helped Frankfurt stocks to new highs. The

Dax

closed up 42.43 at 3604.55.

The

FTSE

went for a little run this morning, refreshed by Wall Street's close, with a 9:30 a.m. GMT options expiration adding a little pep.

"The option expiration pushed the index up over 4700," says Philip Isherwood, U.K. equities strategist at

Kleinwort Benson

. "We're sitting just below that now, which is probably fair."

The FTSE is up 17.80 at 4699.00. Isherwood doesn't expect British stocks to move all that much ahead of Tuesday. "You have to expect everything to be on hold before the FOMC meeting," he says.