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Wall Street aims for 2-day rally as Fed meeting begins

IN THE NEWS TODAY

U.S. stock futures were sharply higher this morning, after Monday's strong gains on Wall Street. The Fed's two-day meeting begins today, with expectations for the first rate hike in nine years coming tomorrow. | CFO survey of rate path (CNBC)

Central bankers will be watching consumer inflation, out at 8:30 a.m. ET. The headline number is seen as unchanged in November. The core rate is expected to match October's 0.2 percent advance.

On prolonged oversupply concerns, Moody's has lowered by $8 per barrel its U.S. oil price estimate for next year to $40 per barrel. Meanwhile, crude moved higher this morning, after Monday's advance. (CNBC)

The sharp decline recently in junk bonds, which continued Monday, dragged down the shares of asset managers Franklin Resources (BEN), Affiliated Managers Group (AMG) and BlackRock (BLK). | 'Wall' of junk bond maturities coming

Waddell & Reed Financial (WDR) has suffered the largest outflows of any junk-bond fund this year, according to the Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, hedge fund manager Marc Lasry is backing a junk bond fund at his Avenue Capital Group hit by heavy redemptions.

Fitch Ratings said high-yield issuers have now posted at least $1.5 billion in defaults every month for 13 straight months — that's just one month short of the streak at the peak of the 2008 financial crisis.

Lumber Liquidators (LL) jumped 20 percent in premarket trading, after investor Whitney Tilson proclaimed the company to be "sloppy and naive, but not evil." Tilson also said he covered his short on the stock. (CNBC)

Xerox (XRX) saw billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn raise his stake in the technology provider to 8.13 percent from the prior 7.13 percent, which was announced in November. (CNBC)

Hudson's Bay, owner of Saks Fifth Avenue, is near a deal to buy Gilt Groupe for about $250 million, about a quarter of the reported valuation for the online luxury retailer four years ago. (WSJ)

Alibaba (BABA) and Disney (DIS) are launching an over-the-top content system in China aimed at boosting sales of movie-related toys, books, and trips to Disneyland. The device costs $125. (WSJ)

For Disney, the Los Angeles premiere of "The Force Awakens" last night was a celebration of its $4 billion decision in 2012 to get into the "Star Wars" business. (NY Times)

Good news for SiriusXM (SIRI) — shock jock Howard Stern will be staying at the satellite radio provider.

Seattle has become the first city in the nation to allow drivers of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft to unionize. The companies strongly oppose the move, and they're expected to fight the vote in court. (AP)

Nine of the top GOP candidates face off for their final primetime debate of 2015 in Las Vegas tonight, with Donald Trump once again the front-runner in the race and Ted Cruz surging nationally and in Iowa. (USA Today)

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton is coming to Minnesota today to give what is being billed as a major speech to lay out her plan to defeat Islamic terrorists. (Star Tribune)

The deadline is today for those without health care insurance to sign up for Obamacare in time for coverage to begin on Jan. 1. People have until Jan. 31 to obtain insurance or face the penalty. (USA Today)

BY THE NUMBERS

In addition to consumer inflation, the New York Fed's Empire State index is also out at 8:30 a.m. ET. The measure of the state's manufacturing activity is seen narrowing to a negative 6.9 reading for December.

The National Association of Home Builders is out with its monthly sentiment index, at 10 a.m. ET, with consensus forecasts calling for a reading of 63 for December compared to 62 in November.

Boeing (BA) increased its quarterly dividend by 20 percent to $1.09 per share, and raised its stock buyback program to $14 billion from the prior $12 billion.

Pfizer (PFE) increased its quarterly dividend by 7.1 percent, with the drug maker upping its quarterly payout to 30 cents per share from the prior 28 cents.

STOCKS TO WATCH

Merck (MRK) failed to win the backing of an FDA panel in a case involving its cholesterol-lowering drug Vytorin. The panel said the drugmaker should not be permitted to claim that Vytorin reduces the risk of heart attacks and strokes in coronary heart disease patients.

Sanofi (SNY) is in talks with Germany's Boehringer Ingelheim about a potential $20 billion asset swap. Sanofi would get Boehringer's consumer health unit, while the German company would take over Sanofi's animal health business.

Nvidia (NVDA) was unsuccessful in its appeal before the International Trade Commission in a patent case against Samsung and Qualcomm. The case involved use of Nvidia's graphics chip technology.

General Electric (GE) reached an agreement to sell its Japan leasing business to a unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group for $4.8 billion, as the conglomerate continued to focus on its industrials businesses.

WATERCOOLER

Only about a quarter, or 22 percent, of employed Americans expect to receive a holiday bonus and just 12 percent anticipate a pay raise this holiday season, according to a new survey. (CNBC)