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Stocks Struggle as Banks Take a Hit

Stocks opened lower Thursday as investors shrugged off an encouraging jobless report and news of a bailout for Greece.

Futures had initially risen after European President President Herman Van Rompuy confirmed an agreement to bail out Greece, though details remain sketchy, which could explain why the market opened lower.

Financials took a hit, with JPMorgan leading the Dow's decline, as investors worry that debt problems in Europe could spread.

AIG shares rose as the bailed-out insurer launched a new system for ranking employeesbased on performance and awarding incentive pay.

MMM was among the top gainers on the Dow after Sanford Bernstein upgraded its rating on the stock to "outperform" from "market perform," citing better margins and an improved growth rate at the company, which makes everything from Post-It notes to medical equipment.

Wall Street's major averages posted modest losses yesterday on continuing fears over Greece and prepared remarks from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke that indicated the central bank had progressed in its plans to begin scaling back its various liquidity programs.

In the morning's economic news, the government said weekly jobless claims fell by 43,000 last week, a welcome reversal of a recent trend that saw the metric increasing and raising doubts about how soon the employment picture would recover.

And the 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell below 5 percent again last week, Freddie Mac reported.

Among today's weather-related postponements, the usual Thursday report on natural gas inventories, which will be out tomorrow morning at 10:30 am New York time. January retail sales and December business inventories have been pushed to tomorrow as well. The Treasury budget is expected to be postponed until next week.

The Treasury auctions $16 billion in 30-year bonds, with the results available shortly after 1 pm.

In earnings action:

Media conglomerate Viacombeat expectationsas cost-cutting efforts helped offset a drop in ad sales at its cable unit.

And PepsiCohit its earnings target, helped by strong growth in Asia, and backed its outlook but North American drinks volume declined.


AutoNation, the largest car dealership in the US, posted a profit of 29 cents per share that beat analyst estimates. Hotel chain Marriott also surpassed forecasts.

Wednesday's after-the-bell reports provide a few stocks to watch this morning, including videogame maker Activision Blizzard, which beat estimates and declared its first dividend, and insurer Allstate, which also topped expectations.

McAfee is among the notable names reporting after the bell today.

Still to Come:

THURSDAY: 30-year auction; Fashion week starts; Miami boat show starts
FRIDAY: Consumer sentiment; weekly crude inventories; Treasury budget; Winter Olympics starts

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.

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