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Stocks Flat Ahead of CPI

Spint Nextel's earnings are a penny shy of estimates.

Stocks were little changed early Wednesday as traders awaited a key reading on consumer inflation.

Index futures recently showed the

S&P 500

trading about half a point above fair value, while the Nasdaq 100 was set for a 1.5-point decline. The 10-year Treasury bond was down 1/32 in price to yield 4.57% -- 13 basis points below the two-year note -- while the dollar rose against the yen and euro.

Trading could be muted in the runup to the government's consumer price index, which will be released at 8:30 a.m. EST. Economists are looking for a 0.5% rise in the headline number and a 0.2% rise in the core, which strips out food and energy prices.

Oil pulled back after adding 2% Tuesday on concern about renewed militant activity in Nigeria. The newly benchmarked April contract was recently down 66 cents to $62.08 a barrel. March crude expired Tuesday at just over $61 a barrel.

Overseas markets were mostly lower, with London's FTSE 100 recently falling 0.2% to 5844 and Germany's Xetra DAX losing 0.2% to 5790. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei shed 0.7% overnight to 15,782, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1% to 15,636.

U.S. stocks fell Tuesday as chip stocks sold off and traders took no encouragement from minutes of the

Federal Reserve's

Jan. 31 meeting. For the session, the

Dow Jones Industrial Average

lost 0.4%, the S&P 500 shed 0.3%, and the

Nasdaq Composite

declined 0.9%.

The Fed minutes provided another generally upbeat assessment of the economy, but noted that at least some Federal Open Market Committee members still think inflation is higher than it should be. "The possibility of additional policy moves was reinforced by readings on core inflation and inflation expectations that were somewhat higher than was desirable over the long run," the minutes read.

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


Financial markets, as measured by fed funds futures, currently expect the Fed to raise interest rates twice more, to 4.5%, by June.

In corporate news,

Sprint Nextel


reported a 55% decline in fourth-quarter earnings, reflecting merger expenses. Adjusted earnings of 33 cents a share were a penny shy of estimates. Revenue of $11.3 billion was in line.

Shares of


surged late Tuesday after the Chinese search engine company reported a near-tripling in fourth-quarter earnings on sharply higher sales. The company earned 13 cents a share in the quarter, about 6 cents ahead of estimates.




backed first-quarter earnings guidance Wednesday, saying it expects to report a profit within or slightly above its previous range of $1.10 to $1.25 a share. Hovnanian said contracts rose 22% on a dollar-value basis and 11.8% on a unit basis in the first quarter.



third-quarter earnings rose 22% from a year ago to $669.6 million, or 55 cents a share, on a 9% rise in sales to $2.77 billion. Both numbers were in line with analyst estimates.