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FedEx, Oracle, GM, Stocks, Covid and Quadruple Witching Hour - Five Things You Must Know

Stocks mixed as Covid surges, quadruple witching hour looms; FedEx surges after solid Q2, profit forecast return, CDC endorses Pfizer and Moderna vaccines over Johnson & Johnson; GM says Cruise CEO leaving the AV division and Oracle is reportedly eyeing a $30 billion takeover of Cerner Corp.

Here are five things you must know for Friday, December 17:

1. -- Stock Futures Mixed Ahead of Quadruple Witching Hour

U.S. equity futures edged lower Friday, extending declines that have wiped out all of the gains posted after this week's Fed policy decision, as investors retrench in the face of surging coronavirus infection rates and ongoing inflation uncertainty. 

With new infections sweeping through the sports world, cancelling games and putting star players on the sidelines, and Wall Street banks sending workers home, while cancelling Christmas events, the stark reality of a winter Covid wave is starting to find its way into the market's consciousness.

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has warned of a "winter of severe illness and death" for the unvaccinated, adding to the increased levels of concern.

Friday market volatility may also be affected by the so-called quadruple witching hour, where futures and options on both single stocks and indices expire heading into the close of the quarter.

Still, stronger-than-expected earnings last night from FedEx  (FDX) - Get FedEx Corporation Report is giving Dow futures a boost, which now show an opening bell gain of around 165 points. 

Futures contracts tied to the S&P 500 are priced for a 11 point  dip while those linked to the tech-focused Nasdaq Composite are indicating a 140 point gain at the start of trading as benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields hold at 1.429% in overnight trading.

2. -- FedEx Surges on 2022 Profit Forecast 

FedEx shares surged higher in pre-market trading after the world's biggest package delivery company posted stronger-than-expected second quarter earnings while bringing back its earlier 2022 profit forecast. 

FedEx sees full year earnings in the region of $20.50 to $21.50 per share, thanks in part to improving shipping demand, but noted that hiring and cost pressures would likely keep upside profit surprises in check as it works to ensure it has enough staffing over the crucial holiday period. 

"Wee are encouraged by hiring momentum as we look to the second half and are focused on retaining recently hired team members after the peak season concludes," COO Raj Subramaniam told investors on a conference call late Thursday. "All of this to say we anticipate cost pressures from constrained labor markets to partially subside in the second half of the fiscal year."

FedEx shares were marked 5% higher in pre-market trading Thursday to indicate an opening bell price of $250.32 each.

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3. -- CDC Endorses Pfizer, Moderna Vaccines Over Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson  (JNJ) - Get Johnson & Johnson Report shares slumped lower in pre-market trading after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccines made by Pfizer PFE and Moderna MRNA over its single-dose offering. 

Citing risks linked to rare, but potentially fatal, cases of blood clotting, the CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization voted late Thursday to endorse the messenger-RNA based vaccines as the government makes an accelerated effort to inoculate Americans ahead of an expected winter wave of infections. 

"The safety and well-being of those who use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine continues to be our number one priority,” says JNJ's Mathai Mammen. “We appreciate today’s discussion and look forward to working with the CDC on next steps." 

Johnson & Johnson shares were marked 1.5% lower in pre-market trading to indicate an opening bell price of $170.47 each. 

4. -- GM Slides As Cruise CEO Dan Ammann Exits 

General Motors  (GM) - Get General Motors Company Report shares were marked lower in pre-market trading after the carmaker lost a key executive in its self-driving car subsidiary. 

GM said late Thursday that Cruise CEO Dan Ammann would be stepping down from its majority-owned division immediately, with CTO Kyle Vogt tabbed as his interim replacement. Cruise, which is close to receiving permits to operate its self-driving taxis in San Francisco, was recently touted by GM CEO Mary Barra as having the potential to generate $50 billion in revenues over the next six years. 

"Alongside this leadership change ... GM (will) aggressively pursues addressable AV markets beyond rideshare and delivery," the carmaker said in a statement. "GM is deeply committed to its vision of zero crashes, zero emissions, zero congestion, and AV technology will play a critical role in realizing it.

General Motors shares were marked 2.55% lower in pre-market trading to indicate an opening bell price of $56.90 each.

5. -- Oracle Reportedly Eying $30 Billion Cerner Takeover 

Cerner Corp.  (CERN) - Get Cerner Corporation Report shares surged in pre-market trading after the Wall Street Journal reported that Oracle  (ORCL) - Get Oracle Corporation Report is preparing to buy the electronic medical records company in a deal worth as much as $30 billion.

A takeover of Cerner, the biggest designer of software used by doctors and hospitals to mange and store medical records, would not only be one of the biggest M&A deals of the year, it would also be the biggest in Oracle's corporate history and a bold statement from CEO Safra Catz, who assumed sole control of the cloud and software group in 2019. 

Cerner shares were marked 14.7% higher in pre-market trading to indicate an opening bell price of $91.20 each. Oracle shares, meanwhile, fell 3% to $100.14 each.