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Today's Primer Post

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are coming off their biggest one-day drops of 2013, the Dow its second biggest, on the mere hint that the Federal Reserve might at some point take away the proverbial punch bowl. Stock index future are again pointing to a lower open on Wall Street, although not nearly to the extent of Wednesday's selloff.


Investors will have plenty of economic data to occupy their attention today, beginning with initial jobless claims and consumer prices at 8:30 a.m. New York time. Economists expect jobless claims to climb by 14,000 to 355,000 for the week ending February 16, while the Consumer Price Index is seen rising by 0.1 percent for January after an unchanged performance in September.


10 a.m. will bring three widely followed reports – existing home sales from the National Association of Realtors, the Philadelphia Fed index, and the Conference Board's Index of Leading Economic Indicators. Consensus forecasts call for existing home sales to fall 1.2 percent for January to an annual rate of 4.88 million, while the Philly Fed index is expected to go positive for February at 1.0 after January's -5.8. The LEI is seen rising 0.3 percent for January after increasing 0.5 percent in December.


The Energy Department will issue its weekly report on natural gas inventories at 10:30 a.m., and its holiday-delayed look at oil and gasoline inventories at 11 a.m.


Dow component Wal-Mart (WMT) leads our list of companies set to issue quarterly earnings this morning, along with Hormel Foods (HRL), Safeway (SWY), Host Hotels (HST), and Chesapeake Energy (CHK). Another Dow component, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), tops the list of after-the-bell releases, while Nordstrom (JWN), Intuit (INTU), and AIG (AIG) are also out with quarterly reports this afternoon.


Restaurant chain Cheesecake Factory (CAKE) leads our list of stocks to watch, reporting fourth quarter profit of $0.51 per share, excluding certain items, one cent below estimates. Revenues were also shy of consensus, and the company's projected first quarter profit of $0.40 - $0.43 per share is largely below current estimates of $0.43. Profits were hurt by a drop in sales at the Grand Lux Caf chain as well as Superstorm Sandy.


Crocs (CROX) earned $0.04 per share for the fourth quarter, excluding certain items, above estimates for a breakeven quarter. Sales were also above analyst projections, as prices increased and unit sales were at record highs.


Xerox (XRX) has increased its quarterly dividend by 35 percent, putting the payout at 5-3/4 cents per share.


Tesla (TSLA) lost $0.65 per share for the fourth quarter, wider than the $0.53 expected by analysts. But the automaker's revenues were above expectations, and it says it expects to make a profit during the current quarter.


Foot Locker (FL) has raised its dividend by 11 percent to $0.20 per share, and the footwear and athletic apparel retailer has also announced a $600 million share buyback.


Boston Beer (SAM) earned $1.25 per share for the fourth quarter, matching Street estimates, with revenues in line as well. The beer brewer did see a drop from the prior year as profit margins fell.


Synopsys (SNPS) earned $0.67 per share for the fiscal first quarter, 12 cents above estimates. The maker of software that helps design semiconductors also raised its full year earnings outlook as it signs more long term licensing agreements.


Verifone (PAY) is forecasting earnings for both the first and second quarters that are well below analyst estimates. The maker of credit card swipe machines says customers are putting off major projects, and that weakness in Europe is hurting results as well.


Halliburton (HAL) is increasing its quarterly dividend by 39 percent, putting the oilfield services company's payout at 1-1/4 cents per share.


Constellation Brands (STZ) shares are seeing some bullish action, after Constellation, Grupo Modelo, Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), and the Justice Department agreed to put off all litigation relating to AB InBev's acquisition of the remaining stake in Grupo Modelo. AB InBev and Modelo both say their recently revised transaction resolves concerns raised in DOJ's original complaint. Constellation is acquiring assets from AB InBev as part of the deal.