Stocks Prepped to Head Higher

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Though the world's stock markets put in a rather lackluster performance, it looks like the U.S. stock market will post some modest gains this morning.

"The market looks kinda flat for an opening today," says Bob Basel, director of listed trading at

Salomon Smith Barney

. "If I had to make a guess, I'd say it's going higher."

At 9 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500

futures are up 0.80, indicating a mildly positive open.

This morning's economic data did little to move the Treasury market.

Weekly jobless claims

for the week ending Saturday came in at 301,000, in line with estimates. The December

U.S. trade deficit

hit a whopping $10.79 billion -- far higher than the $8.72 billion economists expected. A coming flood of Asian exports, compliments of the region's economic crisis, could be read into the numbers, but perhaps fears that the big deficit will spark calls for a lower dollar have counterweighted the Asian deflation argument.

Whatever the reason, the Treasury market is more-or-less flat -- the long bond is off 4/32 at 103 27/32, putting the yield at 5.85%.

It was a volatile day in the Tokyo stock market, where stocks jumped out of the blocks early on rumors that tomorrow's economic stimulus plan will be larger than the disappointment most investors are expecting. Those gains were short-lived, however -- Takashi Kosugi, a member of the ruling democratic party, played down the rumors in the afternoon. Stocks fell 250 points, ending right about where they started.

With expectations that the stimulus plan won't be as big as needed, it appears that

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

international strategist Barton Biggs is throwing in his hand.

CNBC

reports that the

eminence grise

of international investing has gone bearish on Japan. Biggs is apparently calling for the Nikkei to slip back to 15,000 and the dollar to hop to 135 yen.

The

Nikkei

closed at 16,616.48, up 2.59.

Hong Kong's stock market followed a similar trajectory to Japan's. Follow-through trading on yesterday's market-friendly 1998/99 budget sent the

Hang Seng

above 11,000, but the market couldn't sustain those levels. The Hang Seng closed off 89.68 to 10,581.27.

After three days of new records, German stocks saw a bit of consolidation. The

Dax

closed off 46.43 at 4582.39.

Stocks headed into record territory early in the London session, but have since taken back most of their gains. The

FTSE

is up 8.30 at 5731.70.

Computer Sciences'

(CSC)

board said that it voted to reject

Computer Associates'

(CA) - Get Report

hostile bid.

WorldCom

reported fourth-quarter earnings of 15 cents per share, in line with

First Call

consensus estimates.

Homestake Mining

(HM)

reported a fourth-quarter loss of 17 cents per share, a dime below estimates.

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

, whose earnings beat fourth-quarter estimates by a nickel after the close

las t night, looks strong going into the open. In before-market trading, Dell is up 4 7/8 at 118.