Stocks Drift Higher Ahead of Bell

Traders look to close out a big week.
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Stocks were moderately higher early Friday following strong overseas sessions, as investors looked to close out a solid week that has benefited from steadily declining interest rates.

Index futures showed the

S&P 500

trading a point above fair value, while the Nasdaq 100 was set for a 3-point gain. The 10-year Treasury bond, which rallied 22/32 Thursday, was recently off 3/32 in price to yield 4.65%, while the dollar slipped against the yen and euro.

Shares of

Verizon

(VZ) - Get Report

was upgraded to outperform Friday by S.G. Cowen, which said the stock could outperform the broader market by as much as 20% over the next 12 months.

Friday morning's economic slate includes a report on February industrial production from the

Federal Reserve

and the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index. The latter is expected to rise to 88 from 86.7 last month.

Oil eased after rising more than 5% this week on concerns about U.S. military action in Iraq and the ongoing nuclear-research standoff in Iran. April crude was recently down 20 cents to $63.38 a barrel.

Overseas markets were higher, with London's FTSE 100 recently up 0.6% to 6031 and Germany's Xetra DAX adding 0.6% to 5931. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei rose 1.5% overnight to 16,340, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.5% to 15,602.

U.S. stocks ran to near five-year highs this week, buoyed by benign economic news and a string of solid brokerage reports. Heading into today, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

is up 177 points, or 1.6%, since Friday, while the S&P 500 is up 24 points, or 1.9%, and the

Nasdaq

has added 38, or 1.7%.

Early headlines included a smattering of mergers news, including word that

Vodafone

(VOD) - Get Report

plans to sell its Japan unit to Softbank for $14.9 billion. Another report in the

Wall Street Journal

says

St. Paul Travelers

(STA)

is discussing a possible merger with Zurich Financial.

Late Thursday,

American International

(AIG) - Get Report

said fourth-quarter profits plunged 72% from a year ago to $444 million, or 17 cents share, due to a host of charges. Adjusted earnings of 14 cents a share missed estimates.

To view David Peltier's video take on today's premarket action, click here

.

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

could see pressure after saying its already massive loss for 2005 was $2 billion worse than previously believed. The automaker widened its full-year deficit to $10.6 billion after taking a bigger reserve against Delphi's bankruptcy and adding to a restructuring charge.

The action came a day after

Ford

(F) - Get Report

was downgraded at Citigroup on concerns about a weakening product mix. Ford shares still managed to end the day up about 1%.