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Commodities in focus as stocks slump

IN THE NEWS TODAY

U.S. stock index futures declined on Wednesday, tracking European shares lower as oil prices continued to slide. Trade volumes in the market will likely be thin given the holiday season, with commodities in focus. (CNBC)

Oil prices slid back into negative territory over concerns a cold snap would be short lived and following industry data that suggested a surprise build in weekly U.S. crude inventories of 2.9 million barrels. (Reuters)

Japan's Nikkei ended 2015 up 9.3 percent, marking the fourth consecutive year of gains. Asian shares were mixed, with South Korea and Hong Kong settling in the red and Australia and Shanghai finishing in the black. (CNBC)

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde forecast global economic growth would be "disappointing" in 2016 in an interview with Handelsblatt. Rising U.S. interest rates and economic slowdown in China are increasing risk and uncertainty, she said. (Reuters)

Investors in Palantir, as well as employees, are seeking to sell shares in the $20 billion data-mining start-up, traders and venture capitalists told the Wall Street Journal. The move signals an effort to unlock value in the fourth largest venture capital-backed company by valuation. (WSJ)

Uber and Lyft rival Sidecar announced Tuesday it will shutter its ride-hailing service on Dec. 31. The start-up raised just $35 million, well below Uber's $7.4 billion and Lyft's $1.3 billion. (Reuters)

Clayton Homes, the mobile home subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, was accused of systematically preying on minority homebuyers and baiting them into subprime loans "doomed to fail," in an investigation by the Seattle Times and Buzzfeed. Berkshire said it "categorically and adamantly" denies discriminating against customers. (CNBC)

America's ultra-wealthy have financed an apparatus of lawyers, estate planners, and lobbyists to shield their fortunes from tax collectors, The New York Times reports. Just a few thousand Americans benefit from the apparatus, which the Times links to a declining percentage of taxes paid by the country's 400 highest-earning taxpayers. (NYT)

Swiss private bank Julius Baer has reached an agreement with U.S. attorneys to pay $547.25 million to settle allegations it helped rich Americans dodge taxes. The amount is nearly $200 million above the amount Baer set aside in June to cover anticipated penalties. (Reuters)

Former New York Gov. George Pataki has dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Pataki was averaging less than 1 percent of support among likely Republican voters in recent national polls. (CNBC)

Hillary Clinton on Tuesday accused the Islamic State of committing genocide against Christians and other religious minorities. The Democratic presidential front-runner previously said she was reluctant to use the word "genocide" to describe the militant group's actions. (NBC News)

Islamic State theologians issued detailed rules outlining when men can engage in sexual intercourse with women captured and enslaved by the group, documents captured in a U.S. Special Forces raid and reviewed by Reuters showed. (Reuters)

Two men suspected of plotting a terrorist attack in Ankara on New Year's Eve were arrested by Turkish police on Wednesday. (Reuters)

Flooding in Missouri could surpass levels last seen during the state's devastating 1993 flood, Gov. Jay Nixon warned. River levels are still rising after 13 people died in floods caused by weekend storms.

BY THE NUMBERS

November pending homes sales are due out at 10 a.m. ET. Signed contracts for single family homes, co-ops, and condos are expected to show sales rose 0.5 percent last month.

The Energy Information Administration reports weekly U.S. crude oil inventories at 10:30 a.m. ET. Economists surveyed by Reuters expect a 2.5 million barrel decline.

There are no significant companies reporting earnings this week.

STOCKS TO WATCH

DuPont (DD) said it plans to cut 1,700 jobs in Delaware in the beginning of 2016 as it seeks to shed 10 percent of its workforce ahead of an announced merger with Dow Chemical (DOW).

SeaWorld (SEAS) has filed suit against California to challenge a ruling by a state commission that bans breeding of captive orcas. The suit states the California Commission acted outside its authority in handing down the ruling in October.

Facebook (FB) must face a class action lawsuit brought by retail and institutional investors alleging it hid concerns about its growth potential ahead of its 2012 IPO. Facebook said it was appealing the decision, which was made on Dec. 11 but remained sealed.

Fairchild Semiconductor (FCS) acknowledged receipt of an unsolicited proposal from an unnamed bidder to acquire all of the outstanding shares of its common stock for $21.70 per share in cash. Fairchild entered into an agreement with ON Semiconductor (ON) to sell the shares for $20 each in cash.

Bridgestone said Tuesday it will not counter activist investor Carl Icahn's latest offer to acquire Pep Boys (PBY). Icahn Enterprises offered Monday to buy all outstanding Pep Boys stock for $18.50 a share in cash, valuing the auto parts retailer and service center at about $1 billion.

WATERCOOLER

The domestic box office has surpassed $11 billion for the first time ever, according to Rentrak. U.S. and Canadian ticket sales got a boost in the final days of the year from "Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens."

Virtual reality is facing criticism from sex workers. A legal prostitute at Las Vegas's Sheri's Ranch wrote on a company blog the anticipated flood of VR porn will displace traditional pornography, not prostitution, and may cause sexually anxious men to hide in virtual worlds. (Re/code)