Stocks Look Firm on Open

The Nikkei closes up because of Sony's stock-split plans.
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Stocks are looking moderately strong on the open, as traders expect the market's upward momentum to continue.

"The markets are going to continue to have an upward bias on very light volume," said Jim Volk, co-director of institutional trading at

D.A. Davidson

. "I don't see an awful lot to move markets one way or another -- there really isn't a whole heck of a lot going on this morning."

Investors were scraping for any tradable news and coming up empty.

"I went through 150 names and couldn't find a thing," said one hedge-fund trader. "The big news of the day is Sean 'Puffy' Combs and Jennifer Lopez."

At 9 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500

futures were off 0.8, about 3 points above fair value and indicating a somewhat firmer open. The

Nasdaq 100

futures were up 0.5.

The 30-year Treasury was down 5/32 to 95 14/32, lifting the yield to 6.48%.

Tokyo stocks ran higher as traders enthused over

Sony's

(SNE) - Get Report

stock-split plans. The

Nikkei

added 236.62, or 1.3%, to 18,783.52.

Sony's stock split, announced yesterday, puts a cap on a tremendous year for the company, which with recent forays into the Internet has again redefined itself as a consumer products company -- and is raising investor hopes that other Japanese companies will again grab the competitive advantage. "The market's betting there will be more Sony-esque companies that keep redefining themselves to stay ahead of the game," said one Japanese trader. "It was all about Sony today."

Sony gained a limit-high 2,000 yen ($19.53), or 8.2%, to 26,300.

On their first day back from the Christmas break, Hong Kong traders sent stocks higher. The

Hang Seng

gained 95.01 to 16,928.29, with most of the action concentrated in tech-related shares. With most foreign investors out of the market, trading was thin.

At midsession, European shares were soft.

Frankfurt's

Dax

was off 51.46 to 6785.95, giving back some of the big gains it has booked in the last two sessions.

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

was bucking the trend on a strong earnings report. It was lately up 3.2%.

Paris'

CAC

was off 17.28 to 5817.19. London markets were closed.

Tuesday's Wake-Up Watchlist

By

Brian Louis

Staff Reporter

The

Florida Supreme Court

refused to intervene in a class-action suit that sided with Florida smokers. The ruling in the

Engle

suit, which allows smokers to be awarded damages collectively instead of individually, leaves tobacco companies exposed to a potential multibillion-dollar judgment.

Philip Morris

(MO) - Get Report

said tobacco companies would keep fighting to have the suit dismissed.

Separately, the nation's major tobacco companies yesterday asked a federal judge to dismiss a whopping U.S. lawsuit against the tobacco industry, arguing in part that the government has no legal basis to sue.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Associates First Capital

(AFS)

is acquiring

KeyCorp's

(KEY) - Get Report

credit-card portfolio of about $1.3 billion in receivables and nearly 600,000 active

Visa

and

MasterCard

accounts.

Investcorp

, a global investment group, is acquiring

Jostens

(JOS)

. Jostens shareholders will receive $25.25 a share in cash for 98% of the company's outstanding shares. The remaining 2% of the outstanding shares will constitute 6% of the post-takeover equity. Jostens stock closed yesterday at 18 5/16.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

(Earnings estimates are from

First Call/Thomson Financial

.)

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

said according to preliminary figures, revenue for 1999 will rise to 148 billion euros, compared with the year-ago 131.8 billion euros. DaimlerChrysler also said the preliminary numbers indicate its operating profits in 1999 will have risen more strongly than revenue, as projected in October. DaimlerChrysler expects further increases in sales and revenue in 2000, based on the projections released today.

TheStreet.com/NYTimes.com

joint newsroom wrote about the announcement in a story

this morning.

PCD

(PCDI)

, a manufacturer of electronic connectors, warned it expects to post a per-share loss of 4 cents to 7 cents before restructuring costs, below the one-analyst estimate of a 5-cent profit.

Offerings and stock actions

Centennial Cellular

(CYCL)

set a 3-for-1 stock split.

Copart's

(CPRT) - Get Report

board declared a 2-for-1 stock split.

Analyst actions

Merrill Lynch

cut its December quarter and full-year earnings estimates for four airlines:

AMR

(AMR)

, parent of

American Airlines

;

Alaska Air

(ALK) - Get Report

;

Continental Airlines

(CAL) - Get Report

; and

Delta Air Lines

(DAL) - Get Report

. All was not glum out of Merrill, however. In a research note, Merrill said: "In spite of the December quarter EPS reductions, we think the industry's capacity and revenue trends are improving."

Merrill initiated coverage of

Teekay Shipping

(TK) - Get Report

with an intermediate-term neutral rating and a long-term buy rating.

Miscellany

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

has sought to manage concerns among investors about succession at the top of the company (much-heralded GE boss John F. Welch Jr. is scheduled to step down in 16 months) with a series of announcements meant to communicate a message of long-term stability, the Heard on the Street column in

The Wall Street Journal

reported.

Streambox

, a closely held start-up Internet company, said it must temporarily halt the development, production and sale of certain products because of a restraining order stemming from a lawsuit filed against the firm by

RealNetworks

(RNWK) - Get Report

.