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Futures way up ahead of expected Fed hike

IN THE NEWS TODAY

U.S. stock futures were sharply higher this morning, ahead of what's expected to be the first Fed interest rate hike since June 2006. Wall Street was coming off two days of strong gains, looking to make it three straight. (CNBC)

The Fed releases its latest policy statement at 2 p.m. ET, followed by a news conference by central bank chief Janet Yellen. Today also marks the 7th anniversary of the move to near zero percent rates. (CNBC)

Oil was lower this morning, after industry group data showed a surprise increase in stockpiles. Crude prices surged again Tuesday. The government releases its weekly look at inventories at 10:30 a.m. ET. (Reuters)


After weeks of negotiations, House lawmakers have reached a spending and tax deal to avoid a government shutdown, which Republicans said includes lifting of the nation's 40-year ban on oil exports. (NBC News)

The GOP presidential candidates took to the debate stage last night for the first time since terrorist attacks in Paris and California. They aimed to assure voters that they stood best equipped to fight ISIS. (CNBC)

Billionaire hedge fund investor Bill Ackman, whose funds have suffered double-digit losses this year, told investors that 2015 could be his firm's worst ever, but clients are generally staying onboard. (Reuters)

Embattled Valeant (VRX), a major Ackman holding, cut its revenue and profit forecast for 2015 and 2016, ahead of today's investor day. Meanwhile, CEO Michael Pearson is expected to be called to testify about drug prices before a House panel. (Reuters & CNBC)

Chipotle (CMG) expects to scale back its use of locally sourced ingredients while ramping up centralized preparation, as the restaurant chain tightens food safety following an E. Coli outbreak in nine states and a norovirus episode in Boston. (WSJ-subscription)

Faced with "unprecedented demand," officials last night extended by 48 hours the sign-up deadline for 2016 Obamacare coverage on both the federal exchange and California's marketplace. (CNBC)

BY THE NUMBERS

Investors get a handful of economic reports to consider as they await the Fed decision, including November housing starts and building permits at 8:30 a.m. ET, November industrial production and capacity utilization at 9:15 a.m. ET, and December flash manufacturing PMI at 9:45 a.m. ET.

Ahead of the expected Fed rate hike, borrowers moved to refinance their home loans. Refi applications increased 1 percent last week, but overall loan volume decreased by 1.1 percent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Joy Global (JOY) is the only major firm on this morning's earnings calendar, and the mining equipment maker beat on earnings and revenue. This afternoon, FedEx (FDX), Oracle (ORCL), and Pier 1 Imports (PIR) are out with quarterly results after the closing bell.

In dividend news: Moody's (MCO) increased its quarterly dividend by 9 percent, to 37 cents per share. The credit rating agency also announced a new $1 billion share repurchase program. Meanwhile, biotech giant Amgen (AMGN) increased its quarterly dividend by 27 percent to $1 per share.


STOCKS TO WATCH

Office Depot (ODP) saw activist investor Starboard Value cut its stake to 5.5 percent from the prior 8.9 percent, according to a SEC filing.

Halliburton (HAL) and Baker Hughes (BHI) confirmed government regulators would delay a decision on whether to approve their planned merger.

Heartland Payment Systems (HPY) is being bought by rival Global Payments (GPN) for $4.3 billion in cash and stock, valued at approximately $100 per share. Heartland stock closed Tuesday trading at $85.10 per share.

Toyota (TM) predicted that its 2016 global vehicle sales would stay flat at 10.11 million vehicles. That would most likely keep it ahead of Volkswagen and General Motors (GM) as the world's top-selling automaker.

Nasdaq (NDAQ) co-President Adena Friedman is expected to be promoted to chief operating officer today, according to a Reuters report. The move is seen as part of a process to eventually move her into the CEO slot.

AMC Entertainment (AMC) won approval from U.S. antitrust regulators to buy rival theater chain Starplex Cinemas for $172 million. AMC has to sell one theater in Connecticut and another in New Jersey.

WATERCOOLER

The reviews are in: a search for Luke Skywalker, a disaffected Stormtrooper, and a new heroine are among the elements—from nostalgic favorites to potent surprises—that await "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" audiences. (WSJ)