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Wall Street cautious ahead of jobs report

IN THE NEWS TODAY

U.S. stock futures were searching for direction this morning, ahead of Friday's release of the government's February jobs report. The Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq fluctuated between negative and positive Wednesday, before closing slightly higher. (CNBC)

U.S. oil prices were basically flat this morning. They settled modestly higher Wednesday, after pulling back from early January highs earlier in the day. West Texas Intermediate crude logged its seventh positive session in the past eight. (Reuters)

Following Wednesday's strong rally, Chinese stock managed to close higher again overnight, even as the pace of growth slowed in the services sector there. A private measure did show that services remained in expansion mode last month. (CNBC)


The investigation continues this morning into Wednesday's fiery single-car crash that killed Aubrey McClendon, founder and former CEO of Chesapeake Energy (CHK), a day after he was charged with conspiring to rig bids for oil and natural gas leases. (CNBC)

In an effort to halt Donald Trump's march toward the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, the 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, plans to tell voters in a speech today Trump is a "phony" who must be defeated. (AP)

The Koch brothers, billionaire industrialists and the most powerful conservative mega donors in the United States, have decided not use their $400 million political war chest to try to block Trump's path in the GOP primary. (Reuters)

Just hours after vowing to stay in the race, Ben Carson all but waved the white flag. Carson said he would skip tonight's debate, and discuss his plans Friday. "I do not see a political path forward," he said, after a disappointing Super Tuesday. (NBC News)

Herbalife (HLF) said it's identified "errant" information regarding active new member information, and has taken steps to correct it. The health products seller said the errors do not impact its historical financial statements. The stock was off about 15 percent in premarket trading.

IBM (IBM) is suing Groupon (GRPN), accusing the daily deal website of building its business model using IBM patents without authorization, despite prior warnings and a refusal to engage in meaningful talks about a licensing agreement. (Reuters)

SunEdison (SUNE), up 19 percent Wednesday, was sharply lower in premarket trading, after suspending its quarterly dividend on preferred stock. Mounting financial troubles are jeopardizing the renewable energy firm's plans to buy Vivint Solar (VSLR). (WSJ)

Elliott Management's wager on Argentine government bonds has yielded $2.4 billion, after many twists and turns in a contentious battle with the South American country. The agreement with Elliott and three other hedge funds ends the 15-year saga. (WSJ-subscription)

Goldman Sachs (GS) is likely to withdraw a bid to underwrite a $3 billion Russian bond deal, after the U.S. cautioned banks against participating. Out of 28 lenders invited to submit proposals, Goldman was the only one to make a pitch. (WSJ)

The Justice Department has granted immunity to a former State Department staffer, who worked on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign before setting up a private email server in her New York home a year later, the Washington Post reported.

North Korea fired several short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast today, just hours after the UN slapped sanctions on Pyongyang for its recent nuclear test and long-range rocket launch, according to South Korean officials. (NBC News)

BY THE NUMBERS

Ahead of Friday's jobs report, the government releases weekly jobless claims and revised fourth quarter productivity figures at 8:30 a.m. ET. The ISM's non-manufacturing index is out at 10 a.m. ET. The Energy Department issues its weekly look at natural gas inventories at 10:30 a.m. ET.

With the recent stock market rally and mildly encouraging economic data, expectations are tilting back to additional interest rate hikes this year. Investors watch out for clues when Dallas Fed President Rob Kaplan delivers a monetary policy speech in Austin at 10:45 a.m. ET.

Kroger (KR) is among the companies out with earnings this morning, along with Joy Global (JOY) and Barnes & Noble (BKS). H&R Block (HRB), Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE), and Smith & Wesson (SWHC) are out with quarterly numbers after this afternoon's closing bell.

The annual meeting of Disney (DIS) shareholders takes place in Chicago, starting at 11 a.m. ET. Last month, a profit drop at the media giant's cable networks worried investors, despite overall earnings and revenue that beat expectations on "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" strength.

Costco (COST), late Wednesday, reported earnings that fell short and revenue that essentially matched forecasts. The warehouse retailer's comparable store sales rose for the first time in four quarters.

STOCKS TO WATCH

Verizon (VZ) will begin selling BlackBerry's (BBRY) Priv smartphone online beginning today, and in stores on March 11.

Honeywell (HON) is dropping its merger bid for United Technologies (UTX). CEO David Cote told CNBC his firm is walking away on friendly terms, without going hostile.

BHP Billiton (BHP), up 8 percent Wednesday, was higher in the premarket, after BHP and partner Vale (VALE) struck a deal with the Brazilian government over a deadly November dam disaster.

Monsanto (MON) cut its fiscal 2016 profit outlook. The seeds and chemical giant did say there were signs of stabilization, and doesn't plan any further job cuts beyond prior plans to lay off 3,600 workers.

Target (TGT) is paring down its product offerings to add efficiencies to its inventory management. CEO Brian Cornell told investors the process is being carried out category by category, in a "surgical" manner.

Luxury luggage-maker Tumi Holdings (TUMI) is near a deal to be purchased by Samsonite for what could be close to $2 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal.

LinkedIn (LNKD) CEO Jeff Weiner is giving up his annual equity package, valued at about $14 million, choosing to distribute the stock to employees. The move follows a disappointing profit forecast.

WATERCOOLER

After living for nearly a year aboard the International Space Station, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, now 52, returned to Earth and was two inches taller than his identical twin brother Mark. (NBC News)