With February

retail sales

figures behind them, stocks look like they're ready to move higher.

There were no surprises in the February numbers. Overall sales increased by 0.9%, while sales excluding autos added 0.2% -- just as economists expected. January sales were revised upward, but the Treasury market appeared to be taking that revision in stride. At 9 a.m. EST, the 30-year was up 1/32 to 95 19/32, putting the yield at 5.55%.

The in-line number removes the last hurdle for stocks this morning. With Asia stable, Europe higher, the dollar strong and oil prices easing up a bit, stocks are ready to continue moving higher. The

S&P 500

futures were up 5, about 6 above fair value and indicating a good open.

"Everything looks good," said Doug Myers, vice president of equity trading at

Interstate Johnson/Lane

. "I think we can get a continuation of yesterday."

Japanese stocks sped higher through midday, but gave up most of their gains in the last half-hour of trading. Less than a reversal of the forces that have been propelling the market higher, the selling was due to investors locking in gains ahead of tomorrow's expiration. The

Nikkei

ended the day up 22.14 to 15,502.14.

After climbing into the positive column, Hong Kong stocks fell prey to late-day profit-taking. The

Hang Seng

added 86.2 to 10,662.81.

Heartened by Wall Street's gains yesterday, European markets were higher. In Frankfurt, the

Dax

was up 73.16, or 1.6%, to 4795.97. In Paris, the

CAC

was up 39,85, or 1%, to 4202.16. And in London, the

FTSE

was up 98, or 1.6%, to 6339.5.

Thursday's Wake-Up Watchlist

By

Brian Louis

Staff Reporter

  • America Online (AOL) and SBC Communications (SBC) set a strategic alliance to provide high-speed access to the AOL's online service via SBC's asymmetrical digital subscriber lines. The service is planned to be available this fall for AOL members from areas where SBC companies Pacific Bell and Southwestern Bell provide DSL service, including California, Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Kansas. The pact also includes Nevada Bell, which is expected to deploy DSL service later this year.
  • Ashland (ASH) - Get Report formed two new divisions from its largest wholly owned business, Ashland Chemical. The new divisions are Ashland Distribution and Ashland Specialty Chemicals, and the move is effective immediately. Ashland's March quarter financial statements will show the results of the newly created divisions separately for the first time, the company said, adding that prior periods will be restated. On a pro forma basis, Ashland Distribution had sales of $2.9 billion in Ashland's 1998 fiscal year, ended Sept. 30. Sales pro forma for Ashland Specialty Chemicals were $1.2 billion for the same period.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission has stepped up its oversight of online brokerages via a series of formal examinations of top industry players, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing people close to the matter. The newspaper said the SEC's inquiry is still in its early stages and that no one knows exactly what the agency will uncover or what action it might take. SEC examiners have met with Charles Schwab (SCH) and E*Trade (EGRP) and plan to meet with other firms as part of a top-to-bottom review, the article said, citing people at the firms.
  • DaimlerChrysler (DCX) has ended discussions about taking an equity stake in Nissan (NSANY) . Nissan, in the wake of the DaimlerChrysler move, said a link with French automaker Renault is a possibility.
  • Ingram Micro (IM) forecast first-quarter earnings would fall short of Wall Street expectations and set a restructuring under which it will shed 1,400 jobs. Ingram Micro expects first-quarter earnings to range from $40 million to $45 million, or 27 cents to 30 cents a share, before any one-time costs for reductions in the workforce. The First Call 12-analyst estimate currently sees the company earning 42 cents a share.
  • Fred Meyer (FMY) - Get Report posted fourth-quarter operating earnings of 69 cents a share, beating the First Call 10-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago 46 cents.
  • Nautica Enterprises (NAUT) said it will record additional charges in the fourth quarter. As a result of the additional charges, the company expects fourth-quarter earnings to be in the range of 24 cents to 26 cents a share.
  • Charles Schwab is settling complaints from some 300 investors with losses that could total $1.2 million on orders they attempted to cancel for theglobe.com's (TGLO) initial public offering, the Journal reported.
  • ShopKo (SKO) reported fourth-quarter earnings of $1.53 a share, beating the First Call three-analyst estimate and up from the year-ago $1.32.
  • 3Com (COMS) and Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report plan to co-develop a new line of home networking products designed to make it easy for home computer users to connect their PCs and share Internet access, peripherals and applications.
  • Yahoo!'s (YHOO) Yahoo! Germany is joining forces with Mannesmann Arcor, Germany's second-largest telecommunications service provider.