16 January 2004, 15:56  US stocks poised to rise as earnings impress

NEW YORK, Jan 16 - Stocks are set for a higher start on Friday after solid results from General Electric Co. and Juniper Networks Inc. lifted investor sentiment as the earnings season picks up steam. "If the first week is any precursor, then I think the earnings season is going to be nothing short of fantastic," said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. Juniper, the No. 2 maker of networking gear, said after Thursday's close quarterly net profit and sales rose, topping expectations and signaling the telecom spending slump may be ending. Juniper also forecast sales and earnings in the current first quarter that would top analysts' expectations. Its shares jumped to $26.10 before the opening bell from a $22.93 close. Industrial conglomerate General Electric said before the open on Friday fourth-quarter earnings surged 47 percent on the turnaround at its reinsurance unit. Shares of the Dow component rose to $32.15 before the opening bell after closing at $32. Futures pointed to a higher start on Wall Street. Nasdaq 100 March futures rose 9 points to 1,546.50, and Standard & Poor's 500 March futures gained 2.70 points to 1,135.80. Dow futures advanced 20 points to 10,572. Investors will get a string of economic reports on Friday ahead of a long holiday weekend. The stock market will be closed on Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The University of Michigan's first consumer sentiment index for January is forecast at 94.0 versus 92.6 in December and the highest since April 2002. The closely watched index is due at 9:45 a.m. (1445 GMT) The final Michigan number for December rose three points from the surprisingly weak preliminary figure, helped by the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. By contrast, the first January survey was conducted against a backdrop of a weak December payrolls report. November business inventories are forecast to be up 0.2 percent, a third consecutive increase. The report is due at 8:30 a.m. EST. Analysts say the small November inventory jump may have been overtaken by subsequent events in the U.S. factory sector -- as suggested by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank's survey of mid-Atlantic manufacturing, which jumped unexpectedly to a two-decade high.
The dollar recovered more ground against the euro on Friday but hit 3-year lows versus the yen before suspected intervention by Japanese monetary authorities, while European stocks rose to 16-month highs, taking their cue from Asia. The next two weeks mark the busiest period of the quarterly earnings season, but corporate results are already pouring in. Network computer maker Sun Microsystems Inc. on Thursday posted a narrower quarterly loss on revenue at the high end of cautious Wall Street forecasts, reflecting stronger demand for computer services. Shares ended at $5.36. Molex Inc. , a maker of electronic, electric and fiber optic components, said on Thursday after the close quarterly earnings rose 46 percent, beating analysts' estimates. Shares closed at $34.11. Semiconductor maker Cree Inc. on Thursday posted a jump in quarterly profit, thanks to strong sales of its light-emitting diodes (LED) used in mobile phones, and gave a rosy outlook. Shares closed at $21.12. On Thursday, the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> rose 15.48 points, or 0.15 percent, to 10,553.85, and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> gained 1.53 points, or 0.14 percent, to 1,132.05, the highest since April 2002. The technology-laced Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC>, however, fell 2.05 points, or 0.10 percent, to 2,109.08. //www.reuters.com

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