Stock index futures were pointing to a decline at the open Wednesday as traders dealt with an uneven round of earnings reports while gearing up for crucial inflationary data. S&P 500 futures were dropping 5 points to 1400 and were roughly 4 points below fair value. Futures on the Nasdaq 100 were down about 4 points to 2001 and were more than 4 points under fair value. A bit later, the Labor Department will release its consumer price index, which should proffer clues into the rate of U.S. inflation, which has been closely watched amid ballooning commodities prices. The government is also scheduled to release its weekly crude-stockpile report at 10:30 a.m. EDT. On the equities side, among the early winners was mortgage buyer Freddie Mac ( FRE), which said its first-quarter loss narrowed to $151 million, or 66 cents a share, from the prior quarter's loss of $3.97 a share. The stock rose 7.2% before the opening bell. However, chipmaking-equipment seller Applied Materials ( AMAT) slipped 0.6% early after reporting dwindling earnings. Revenue nonetheless topped analyst expectations. In a conference call, CEO Mike Splinter predicted more softness in chip-related spending, but predicted that "this is the bottom." Electronic Arts ( ERTS), a video-game publisher, offered a weaker full-year profit outlook than that targeted by Wall Street. The company also came in well ahead of expectations for the fiscal fourth quarter with adjusted earnings of $30 million, or 9 cents a share, on 50% higher sales. Still, shares lost ground in after-hours trading. Away from the tech patch, Whole Foods ( WFMI) took a plunge in the last night's extended session after the organic-foods mart said costs from its Wild Oats buyout ate into its fiscal second-quarter profit, which slid 13%, even as revenue soared by 27.6%. Same-store sales, or those from locations open a year or more, climbed 6.7%.
Last time out, the broad indices spent most of the day in the red, and finished narrowly mixed, as investors digested a new high for oil and a number of other negative indicators. All told, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gave up 44 points to 12,832, and the S&P 500 was off a half-point at 1403. The Nasdaq Composite rose 7 points to 2495, however, thanks to reports that billionaire investor Carl Icahn is loading up on Yahoo! ( YHOO) stock and may launch a proxy battle. Late in the trading day Tuesday, Clear Channel Communications ( CCU) reached a buyout settlement with Thomas H. Lee Partners and Bain Capital worth $36 a share, or $17.9 billion. That's $3.20 a share lower than what the companies had previously agreed on, but shares closed the last session higher and added 0.9% in the premarket. Among commodities, crude oil was sinking 59 cents to $125.21 a barrel, and gold futures gave up $6.40 to $863.20 an ounce. The U.S. dollar gained 0.2% against the euro to $1.544, while firming by 0.3% against the yen at 105.11. Treasury prices were falling. The 10-year note was down 7/32 in price to yield 3.94% and the 30-year bond lost 3/32 in price, yielding 4.66%. Markets abroad were mixed. In Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index slipped 0.1% overnight, but the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo climbed 1.2%. As for Europe, London's FTSE 100 shed 0.2%, and Germany's Xetra Dax gave up 0.4%. The Paris Cac rose 0.1%.