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February Sales - An Unexpected Boost

For once, we have an economic report that was better than expected.

Futures popped about 4 points as February retail sales showed only a modest decline. More importantly, January was revised UPWARD.

Remember, economic and earnings news have generally come in WORSE than expected for months. Watch for the inflection point, where suddenly the news comes in BETTER than expected.

Too early to call a trend here, but it bears watching.

Elsewhere:

1) Pfizer up 4 percent pre-open as a phase 3 clinical trial of a drug to treat pancreatic cancer had shown "significant benefit."

2) Men's Wearhouse up 15 percent after reporting earnings better than expected and gave guidance that was also in-line with expectations. Due to the lack of visibility, they are no longer providing mid-quarter updates.

3) Commodity stocks are down mid-single digits.

Companies in several industries (steel, potash) have reminded us that the earnings outlook remains clouded.

3) Steel Dynamics down 15 percent pre-open, have guided to a loss of $0.40 to $0.45 for the first quarter, versus previous guidance of $0.05 to $0.10. "Demand for steel products remains soft through February," the company said, primarily due to continued weakness in automotive and construction. "The outlook for the remainder of 2009 remains clouded," CEO Keith Busse said.

More importantly, Steel Dynamics is recognizing that they will have to take down second half 2009 earnings expectations, which is the reason the stock market is continuing to struggle: "We had earlier suggested the possibility of 2009 earnings that could be comparable or close to those of 2008, but we now recognize that the entire year of 2009 will be more challenging."

4) K+S, Europe's largest potash manufacturer, forecast significantly lower earnings this year. Demand from farmers has shrunk, partly due to difficulty getting credit, partly due to lower prices for soybeans and corn, and partly to the high potash prices. Producers have been cutting production to try to keep the price up, but prices appear to be down by as much as 25 percent.

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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