Things Look Good for Stocks at the Open

The S&P 500 futures are pointing toward a positive open, but the bonds remain a bit soggy.
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Despite a relative dearth of upside catalysts, things are looking good for the equity market this morning.

There's not a lot happening on the corporate front to spur the market higher, though

Hewlett-Packard's

(HWP)

earnings from last night could help the tech sector and the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

some. The bond market certainly doesn't look like it's going to be of much assistance; the bonds were still inching lower this morning, consolidating from their recent rally and a little worried about the late gains in oil.

"The bonds aren't giving us much to work with here," said Bryan Piskorowski, market analyst at

Prudential Securities

. At 9 a.m. EST, the 30-year Treasury was down 5/32 to 99 23/32, thickening its yield to 6.145%. December crude futures were trading at $26.45 a barrel, fractionally below yesterday's close.

Still, sentiment looks good right now. The

S&P 500

futures were up 5, more than 7 points above fair value and indicating a strong opening for stocks. Hewlett-Packard was lately trading at 83 3/4 in the premarket, up from yesterday's New York close of 77 7/16.

"We've gotten over some hurdles with the sense that the

Fed's

on hold for the rest of the year," Piskorowski said. "The problem is that meteoric rise heading into the meeting begs the question of what we're going to do for an encore. We're kind of stuck in no-man's land here."

The market won't see any major economic numbers today. The

Commerce Department

has released figures showing the U.S. trade deficit widened to $24.41 billion in September from a revised $23.55 billion in the previous month. And the

Labor Department

reported that initial jobless claims fell to 287,000 in the week ended Nov. 13 from the prior week's revised 290,000.

The big European indices were strengthening in early afternoon trading amid the

European Central Bank's

widely expected decision to leave its monetary policy unchanged.

The Paris

CAC

was up 43.49 to 5221.72, while London's

FTSE

was down 0.6 to 6555.1, well off its early low.

In Frankfurt, the

Xetra Dax

was up 35.65 to 5905.82. Shares of

Mannesmann

(MNNSY)

were flying again, this time on a report by the German daily

Handelsblatt

that

Vodafone AirTouch's

(VOD) - Get Report

next offer for the telecom firm could be as high as 235 euros (about $244.30) per share.

The West German business confidence survey conducted by the

Ifo

research institute rose to 96.1 from 95.4, in line with expectations and a good, but not a great, sign for the eurozone's bellwether economy.

The euro edged modestly lower on the ECB announcement, and was lately quoted at $1.0373, down from $1.0408 late in New York yesterday.

Hong Kong stocks endured a mixed and quiet session ahead of tomorrow's meeting of the

Hong Kong Association of Banks

, which may raise the deposit rate by 25 basis points to match the Fed's action on Tuesday. Though interest rates in Hong Kong track the trend of U.S. rates, eight of 10 money-market dealers polled by

Reuters

don't see the HKAB making any move tomorrow.

The

Hang Seng

gained a modest 17.26 to 14,721.74.

In Tokyo, heavy buying in real estate stocks helped drive the

Nikkei

up 257.99, or 1.4%, to 18,532.81. Despite that buying, the dollar firmed a bit against the yen overnight, edging up slightly to the 105.5-yen level. The greenback was lately quoted at 105.71 yen.

El Choque de los Titans del Beisbol

Known for his political curveballs, controversial Venezuelan President

Hugo Chavez

will be throwing all manner of real pitches today in a baseball showdown with Cuban leader

Fidel Castro

. Giving critics fodder for barbs about cavorting with autocratic, antimarket leaders, Chavez will pitch for the visiting team in Havana's

Latinoamericano Stadium

. The stadium was the site of the ground-breaking exhibition game between the

Baltimore Orioles

and an assembled Cuban team earlier this year.

Castro, who will manage the Cuban team, challenged Chavez to the game, which caps the Ibero-American summit of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American leaders.

--

Heather Bourbeau

Thursday's Wake-Up Watchlist

By

Eileen Kinsella

Staff Reporter

Computer giant

Hewlett-Packard

(HWP)

posted fourth-quarter earnings last night of 75 cents a share, beating the 16-analyst estimate of 73 cents and the year-ago 72 cents. Earnings rose to $760 million from $710 million, while revenue from continuing operations totaled $11.4 billion compared with $10.3 billion last year.

The eagerly awaited IPO of Hewlett-Packard spinoff

Agilent Technologies

(A) - Get Report

was priced at $30 a share, above the expected $26-to-$28 range. Agilent also increased the size of the offering, upping the number of shares to 65 million from 57 million.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

is the lead underwriter.

For more on H-P, check out additional

coverage from the

TheStreet.com/nytimes.com

joint newsroom.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures

Baxter

(BAX) - Get Report

will buy

North American Vaccine

(NVX)

in a stock deal valued at $390 million.

Cygnus

(CYGN)

said it will sell its drug delivery business to

Johnson & Johnson's

(JNJ) - Get Report

Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical unit for up to $75 million in cash, depending on certain conditions.

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

has won at least 30 orders worth more than $2 billion for its new line of Delta IV satellite-launch rockets,

The Wall Street Journal

reported, citing sources familiar with the development. The story said

Loral Space & Communications

(LOR) - Get Report

placed a significant order.

British American Tobacco

(BTI) - Get Report

said it will sell its

Shoppers Drug Mart

unit to leverage buyout firm

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts

for $1.8 billion in cash. The deal is subject to BAT completing its acquisition of Canadian conglomerate

Imasco

.

Cable & Wireless

(CWZ)

said it formed a global relationship with

Compaq

(CPQ)

to provide small- and medium-sized companies with e-business solutions. The two companies plan to commit $500 million to the venture over a period of five years.

Knight/Trimark

(NITE)

has set plans to enter the options market by buying options-trading firm

Arbitrade Holdings

for $459 million in stock.

TheStreet.com's

Options Buzz had the scoop back on Tuesday.

Major subsidiaries of

NBC

and

MSNBC

, and

Washington Post

(WPO)

announced a venture to share news reports on their Web sites. NBC is a unit of

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

, while

MSNBC

is a joint venture between NBC and

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

last night reported fourth-quarter income from continuing operations of 69 cents a share, beating the 28-analyst estimate of 65 cents and the year-ago operating loss of 45 cents a share. See additional

reporting on Applied Materials from

TheStreet.com/nytimes.com's

joint newsroom.

TD Waterhouse

(TWE)

reported fourth-quarter earnings of 8 cents a share excluding charges, beating the seven-analyst estimate of 6 cents a share, and the year-ago 4 cents a share.

Westvaco

(W) - Get Report

posted fourth-quarter operating earnings of 58 cents a share, beating the nine-analyst estimate of 41 cents and the year-ago 36 cents a share.

Offerings and stock actions

MetaSolv Software

(MSLV)

said its 5-million share IPO was priced at $19 a share.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

was the lead underwriter.

Credit Suisse First Boston

priced 5.5 million shares of

Retek

(RETK)

at $15 each, above the estimated $12 to $14 range. Retek makes software used by retailers to communicate online with suppliers and distributors.

First Boston priced 5.54 million shares of

Symyx Technologies

(SMMX)

at $14 each, above the expected $12 to $14 range.

Analyst actions

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter raised

Unisys

(UIS) - Get Report

to outperform from neutral and set a price target of 37.

Warburg Dillon Read

started

United Parcel Service

(UPS) - Get Report

with a buy rating and set a price target of 78. Morgan Stanley started the stock with an outperform rating.

Miscellany

The Heard on the Street column in

The Wall Street Journal

looks at daytrading firm

Harbor Securities

, which ceased trading for two full weeks after a $600,000 loss by one trader sparked scrutiny by regulators. Regulators also focused on an additional $2.8 million in losses since June. The column discusses the risks associated with daytrading firms that pool their customers' funds.