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Japanese Big Caps Rise on Careful Optimism

S&P futures, which had been up all night, moved up several points as CPI for February (up 0.5 percent) was a tad hotter than expected (0.4 percent), core CPI (ex-food and energy) was in-line at 0.2 percent. Given how strong the Producer Price Index was, there seems to have been some relief that CPI wasn't even stronger. Regardless: the year over year gain is now 2.1 percent. Remember, the Fed is looking for a 2 percent inflation rate.

As the Tokyo Electric Power began throwing everything at the reactor problem, Japanese big cap stocks like Sony and Panasonic have been rising (Sony is down nearly 20 percent in the past week), as have big miners like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto , which are up 3 or 4 percent. Precious metal stocks like Newmont Mining and Hecla are also up on light volume.

The G7 will be holding a telephone conference on Friday — in part, it seems, to get a consensus on what, if anything should be done about Japan and to provide some kind of psychological support to the Japanese.

One thing's clear: this is a very delicate moment. A full-blown nuclear crisis in Japan would cause not just a meltdown of the reactors — it would cause a meltdown of all the growth forecasts everywhere in the world. They are simply not modeled for potential contamination of the Japanese and — maybe--Korean food chain.

We've chronicled many of the smaller ripple effects. Today, Toshiba said a factory that makes LCD displays for smartphones will be shut for a month because the machinery was damaged in the quake.

Elsewhere:

1) Can stocks avoid a 4-day losing streak? Remarkably, the Dow* has not fallen four straight days since way back in August.

2) FedEx rises 4 percent despite being a penny shy of estimates. Although revenues topped expectations, margins fell as severe winter storms impacted shipping volumes and increased costs. Also affecting the shipper's bottom line: salary increases, the return of its 401(k) matching program, and heightened pension/medical costs.

However, the firm's Q4** guidance ($1.66-$1.83 vs. $1.68 consensus) is giving shares a boost. It warns though that turmoil in the Mideast and Africa could still impact fuel prices and the global economy. As for Japan's earthquake, the financial impact is still "uncertain."

3) Guess falls 6 percent after comps fell 1.1 percent in the latest quarter and its outlook greatly disappointed. Despite beating estimates in the past quarter ($1.11 vs. $1.06 consensus), earnings in the current quarter for the apparel retailer are seen between $0.41-$0.44 — far below $0.61 consensus. Sales growth ahead is disappointing and margins are expected to be just about half of what they were in the past quarter.

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* A previous version of this story misstated the index in question.
** A previous version of this story referred to Q1 guidance.

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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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