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US stock futures scale back gains as UPS cuts outlook

U.S. stock-index futures were mostly higher on Friday, helped by strong results from General Electric and Morgan Stanley, but hindered as United Parcel Service lowered its guidance.

United Parcel Service estimated quarterly profit beneath analysts' expectations, partly due to a shorter U.S. holiday season. The delivery company said it expects to report a profit of $1.25 per share for the fourth quarter, versus estimates of earnings of $1.43 a share.

The Commerce Department reported U.S. housing starts fell 9.8 percent in December to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 999,000-unit pace. Economists expected the number to fall to 990,000.

General Electric, an industrial giant and Dow component, posted earnings in line with expectations. Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley beat analyst estimates by a mile.

Goldman Sachs and Citigroup reported profit falls on Thursday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect Morgan Stanley to report earnings per share (EPS) of $0.45 on revenue of $8.0 billion, up on EPS of $0.25 on revenue of $7.5 billion for the same period a year before.

Other stocks worth watching include Apple, as China Mobile launched its long-awaited sale of iPhones on Friday. China Mobile has the world's biggest network of cell phone users. In a sign of just how important the deal is, Apple CEO Tim Cook has been in Beijing this week for the launch.

(Read more: Apple takes a fresh bite into China's market)

Friday will also be a busy day for economic data, with a number of releases brought forward ahead of Monday's Martin Luther King holiday.

Early on Friday, European and Asian markets digested comments from outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who said the central bank should support the economy with the stimulus it needs, despite worries that quantitative easing could destabilize the financial system.

(Track: European markets live with CNBC)

—By CNBC's Katy Barnato

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