Stocks looked to move higher this morning as the focus of the market's attention will likely be on events before the opening and after the closing bells.
March futures contract was recently quoted up 8 points to 1450 and the thinly traded
contract was quoted up 54.5 to 3558. Also, most of the major European indices were moving higher at midday.
Despite these apparently bullish signs, the market will be keeping a keen eye on this morning's economic releases. At 8:30 p.m. EST, the
Producer Price Index
report will be released.
Tomorrow morning, the
Consumer Price Index
will be released.
The PPI is expected to rise 0.3% in December, according to economists as polled by
, due to rising energy prices. The core PPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, is expected to rise 0.1%. Economists have forecast a 0.7% increase in December retail sales, according to
, but talk was the market is expecting an even stronger report because of the holiday shopping season. Excluding auto sales, economists are looking for a 0.6% rise.
is slated to address the
New York Economic Club
. Most market participants will be listening to the Fed boss for some indication about the future direction for interest rates.
Also after the closing bell, several of the stock market's biggest names are slated to announce their earnings.
all highlight this evening's scheduled releases.
Last Night's After-Hours Trading
Never heard of
In Egyptian mythology Isis was the goddess of fertility, noted for her healing abilities and magical powers. Prior knowledge of this information makes
seem like a fitting name for a company which focuses on a new class of therapeutic drugs called "antisense oligonucleotides."
An hour before the bell on Wednesday, the company released information about a scientific breakthrough regarding a cancer drug known as ISIS 5132, which contain these antisense oligonucleotides. The news helped the company end the day session amidst a flurry of activity, with a gain of 2 11/16, or 36%, to 10 3/16. This momentum extended into the post-close period. Isis Pharmaceuticals sat atop
most-actives chart with a loss of 9/64 to 10 7/32 on a mammoth 4 million shares volume.
was a much different story. At 5:30 p.m. EST, it was off 3/16 to 10 on a paltry 290,000 shares.
Never heard of antisense oligonucleotides?
You are most definitely not alone.
Antisense oligonucleotides are amino acid-based chemicals that have been specifically tailored to track down a certain kind of messenger RNA. The recipe for DNA, which dictates the genetic makeup of cells, is held by this messenger RNA. These new drugs essentially erase the recipe, preventing DNA from being reproduced. Or as the
version would read: antisense oligonucleotides are drugs that block the ability to reproduce certain cells.
Especially cancer cells.
Understanding the company's tactics for fighting cancer proves helpful in deciphering this afternoon's press release touting positive clinical trials for ISIS 5132. Isis Pharmaceuticals identified a messenger RNA known as c-raf-1, which many believe to be the recipe for tumor growth. Lynne Parshall, executive vice president, said the company targeted c-raf-1 and managed to block its reproduction.
"How do you show on a human that your drug is doing what it's supposed to do?" Parshall asked rhetorically. "We took blood and looked what happened before and after the fact. What we found was the drug reduced the level of c-raf-1 messenger RNA proteins after treatment."
University of Pennsylvania
and scientists from Isis Pharmaceuticals jointly published the favorable report regarding the clinical trials for ISIS 5132, which had the snazzy title of "c-raf-1 Depletion and Tumor Responses in Patients Treated with the c-raf-1 Antisense Oligodeoxynucleotide ISIS 5132 (CGP69846A)."
Snazzy title or not, the company's stock attracted the eyes of millions. Its volume was more than double the next most-active stock.
Food for thought: Island's total volume from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. was a little north of 8.4 million shares. Isis Pharmaceuticals accounted for almost half of the ECN's total volume.
Aside from the va-va-va-volume in Isis Pharmaceuticals, there was only one other issue that had such a swinging evening. Coincidentally, it too was a drugmaker.
did not really trade much before 5 p.m. EST. A quick scan of the most active issues wouldn't show the slightest hint that the allergy fighter even existed in after-hours trading. And then, quicker than swelling from a bee sting, the company leapt to the No. 2 spot on Island, up 95/256 to 13/16 on 1.6 million shares.
launched a bid to purchase 40% to 45% of the company. That was the news that renewed investor interest in ImmuLogic. But the bid is no ordinary takeover hope; it's another salvo in a series of skirmishes between
Carl C. Icahn
of Icahn Associates and ImmuLogic that date back to this summer.
On Aug. 25, ImmuLogic's shareholders voted to dissolve the company after rejecting a merger bid from an undisclosed party. The company valued shares at $1.94 and said it would distribute $39.6 million to shareholders in September.
But not all shareholders were happy with the liquidation plans, grousing that the company still had some value and shouldn't be scrapped. A group of investors, with just over 3 million ImmuLogic shares, representing a 14.75% stake, filed a letter with the
Securities and Exchange Commission
and took the matter public. One of men in the investor insurrection was Carl C. Icahn.
So after today's bell, Icahn put his money where his mouth is and ponied up a deal. The terms of the would-be deal are as follows: An Icahn Associates affiliate would own 40% to 45% of Immulogic's outstanding common shares. Meanwhile, the remaining shareholders get something called a "contingent value right" instead of their ImmuLogic share. This right is a guarantee designed to alleviate investor concerns about stock value. It locks in the value of investors' stock at 25 cents more than the price of one share of ImmuLogic on June 30, 2001. So even if ImmuLogic goes completely broke, investors still make a quarter for every share they hold.
ImmuLogic was not available for comment and had yet to respond publicly to Icahn's overture.
announced that it would purchase
in a stock swap. Per the terms of the deal, one share of Etec would be converted to 0.649 shares of Applied Materials common stock.
Halted from 4:34 p.m. until 5:39 p.m. EST, Etec got a huge boost from the news, even if volume was very thin. Its last Island trade of the evening was 77, which is a gain of 27 1/8 from its New York close of 49 7/8. Applied Materials had an opposite, yet expected, reaction in after-hours. It last traded at 125, a loss of 2 1/16 from its New York close of 127 1/16.
This morning, Etec was bid at 71, or up 21 1/8.
Most other tech names traded lightly and made some decent gains.
After today's 50 lashes,
avoided another plank walk. It rose 3 to 360 1/4. This morning, Yahoo! shares were up 10 7/16 to 370.
gained 1 5/8 to 140.
rose 1 15/16 to 125.
rose 5/8 to 91 7/8.
Island ECN, owned by Datek Online, offers trading, mainly in Nasdaq-listed stocks, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST.
MarketXT, formerly Eclipse Trading, offers after-hours trading to retail clients of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's (MWD) Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Online, Mellon Bank's (MEL) Dreyfus Brokerage Services and clients of Salomon Smith Barney. Clients can trade 200 of the most actively traded New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market issues, 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. EST Monday through Thursday.
explains how the rules change when the sun goes down in Investing Basics: Night Owl, a section devoted to after-hours trading.
Staff reporter David A. Gaffen contributed to this story.