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Today's Morning Brief

Wall Street begins an extremely abbreviated trading week today, with U.S. stock markets closing at 1 p.m. ET ahead of tomorrow's Christmas Day holiday. Heading into the final few days of trading for 2012, the S&P 500 has a 13.7 percent gain, on track for its best yearly advance since 2009. Despite a Friday sell-off, the Dow and the S&P 500 still managed to post their fourth weekly gain in five weeks.

The few who do show up for work on Wall Street today may not have much to focus on other than the ongoing "fiscal cliff" drama, with no economic reports on the calendar and no earnings reports due for release. In addition, many of the major Asian and European markets are closed today and tomorrow.

BP (BP) is a stock to watch today, as a federal judge gives final approval to the oil company's $7.8 billion settlement stemming from the 2012 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. That money will be paid out to more than 100 thousand individuals and businesses.

Microsoft (MSFT) is not getting the sales pop that it usually gets from the introduction of a new operating system, according to the New York Times. Ordinarily, a new version of Windows causes a jump in computer sales, but the paper says the trend is very different this time.

Regions Financial (RF) is the subject of a probe by federal regulators, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper says the regulators are looking at allegations that the bank improperly classified loans that soured during the financial crisis.

Yum Brands (YUM) has received approval from Chinese foods safety authorities for the level of antibiotics and steroids used in chicken served in its KFC restaurants. However, it found high levels of a banned anti-viral drug in one sample. China is Yum's fastest growing market and is considered key to the company's future.

Facebook (FB) reportedly used various methods of tax avoidance to shield 440 million pounds from British taxes, according to London's Sunday Times. Recently, Starbucks (SBUX) was the target of a threatened boycott in Britain for similar reasons, and promised to change its tax practices.


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