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Market Poised for Early Strength

Microsoft is trading lower on Instinet; meanwhile, today's OPEC meeting in Vienna is unlikely to yield significant oil output hikes.

It looks like stocks are going to start the week on a tentative note.

At 9:05 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500 futures

were down 3.9. That's actually about 6 points above fair value and thus indicates that the broad big-cap market will see some program-buying early on. It's tough to say which way things will turn after the programs burn themselves out, though.

The more thinly traded

Nasdaq 100

futures were pointing toward a mixed open for technology stocks. The Nazzdogs were lately down 6 points.

"I expect it's going to be a little bit on the quiet side in terms of volume," said Bill Meehan, chief market analyst at

Cantor Fitzgerald

. "But it looks like we just continue to mosey along to the upside."

Not a lot is happening today on the corporate front. In fact, you could say the early part of the session will be defined by what's not happening. It looks like

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

, despite reportedly offering concessions to the

Justice Department

that included a promise to unbundle the company's Internet browser from its Windows operating system, is not likely to settle its antitrust suit before Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson issues his verdict tomorrow. The stock was trading at 109 on

Instinet

from a close of 111 11/16.

At the same time, ministers from the

Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

, who are meeting today in Vienna, don't appear likely to agree to the sort of production increases that would foster a significant easing in the price of crude oil.

United Arab Emirates

Oil Minister Obeid bin Seif al-Nasseri said today that all 11 OPEC members support an increase of no more than 2 million barrels a day. Most observers believe the market needs an extra 2.5 million barrels a day to balance supply with demand.

The morning's dearth of corporate headlines is hardly a bad thing. In preannouncement season, no news is generally good news. Despite high-profile warnings from companies like

Procter & Gamble

(PG) - Get Report

and

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

, earnings estimates have not been undergoing much downward revision. Analysts' estimates for first-quarter

TST Recommends

S&P 500

earnings stand at an impressive 18.5%, according to

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

The bond market was moving lower, with the 10-year note down 16/32 to 101 24/32 and yielding 6.259%.

The large European indices were mixed in afternoon trade. The Paris

CAC

was up 66.02, or 1%, to 6430.28, while Frankfurt's

Xetra Dax

was down 72.20, or 0.9%, to 7860.22. London's

FTSE

was off 79.1, or 1.2%, to 6659.4.

The euro was trading at $0.9714.

Asian markets

soared overnight. In Tokyo, the

Nikkei

rose 322.95 points, or 1.6%, to 20,281.03.

Mitsubishi Motors

soared 12% after

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

said it has signed a letter of intent to

take a 34% stake in the company for $1.95 billion.

The dollar came out of a listless Tokyo trading session at around 106.83 yen. It was lately sitting at 106.76 yen.

Stocks absolutely boomed in Hong Kong, where a short-covering spree in March index futures helped a rally in blue-chips and drove the

Hang Seng

up 508.29, or 2.9%, to 18,292.86.

Taiwan's

TWSE

index shot up 324.93, or 3.4%, to 9801.57

For a look at stocks in the preopen news, see Stocks to Watch, published separately.