Morning Brief

What to watch today: Stock futures lower ahead of jobless claims, Powell speech

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Stock futures are pointing to a lower open and a third day of losses for the major U.S. equity averages, as concerns over the level of Treasury yields continues to weigh on Wall Street sentiment. Dow futures implied a loss of more than 40 points, while S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures also were lower. The benchmark S&P 500 dropped 1.3% Wednesday and the tech-heavy Nasdaq sank 2.7%. The 30-stock Dow declined 119 points, or 0.38%. (CNBC)

* 10-year Treasury yield eases, but holds above 1.45% ahead of Powell's speech (CNBC)

The Dow and S&P 500 have fallen in four of the past five sessions, and the Nasdaq is coming off its biggest two-day loss in six months. Investors are no doubt hoping to hear comforting words from Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell when he addresses the Wall Street Journal Jobs Summit shortly after midday. Due to Monday's strong rally, the Dow and S&P 500 remain higher for the week, and the Financials and Energy sectors are both up by well over 3% for the week.

* Top investor John Rogers says to look outside of the S&P 500 to find new opportunities (CNBC PRO)

The Labor Department releases its weekly report on initial jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET, with economists looking for 750,000 new claims for the week ending Feb. 27. That would be up from the prior week's 730,000.

Revised fourth quarter productivity figures are also out at 8:30 a.m. ET, with consensus forecasts calling for productivity to have fallen 4.7% on an annual basis during the final three months of 2020. The prior estimate had come in at -4.8%.

At 10:00 a.m. ET, January factory orders are likely to have jumped 2.3%, according to economists, following a 1.1% increase in December.

Supermarket operator Kroger (KR) leads this morning's shortlist of corporate earnings releases, with BJ's Wholesale (BJ), Burlington Stores (BURL) and Ciena (CIEN) also set to release quarterly numbers. Costco (COST), Broadcom (AVGO), Gap (GPS), SmileDirectClub (SDC) and IMAX (IMAX) are among the companies scheduled to issue earnings releases after today's closing bell.

IN THE NEWS

Top U.S. health officials are warning that highly transmissible variants are threatening the country's progress on reducing coronavirus cases. New infections dropped sharply after their January peak, but the trend has since stalled even as more Americans are vaccinated against Covid. "So much can turn in the next few weeks," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday. "How this plays out is up to us. The next three months are pivotal." (CNBC)

* President Joe Biden slams governors for lifting mask mandates, calls it 'Neanderthal thinking' (CNBC)
* Kroger, Starbucks and Target will still require masks in Texas despite end of state mandate (USA Today)

Eligibility for Covid vaccines is being rapidly expanded in states across the U.S. in response to growing supply. Residents in Michigan and Indiana who are over 50 years old are now able to be vaccinated; in Connecticut and Arizona, the eligibility is now 55 and up. Johnson & Johnson's (JNJ) recently cleared single-dose vaccine is being reserved for teachers in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, part of an increased push across the country to safely reopen schools. Nearly 52 million people in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine dose, representing more than 20% of the country's adult population. (Associated Press)

* 'When will it end?': How a changing virus is reshaping scientists' views on Covid-19 (Reuters)

House Democrats approved a wide-ranging piece of election-reform legislation Wednesday night, but the bill — which would restrict partisan gerrymandering and require states to have automatic voter registration, among other provisions — faces an unclear path in the Senate. House Resolution 1 passed mostly on partisan lines and would need to see support from 10 GOP senators to get past the filibuster. (Associated Press)

* House passes police reform act named for George Floyd (NBC News)

The House canceled its session that had been scheduled for today, following a warning from Capitol Police that a militia group may be planning to attempt a breach of the building. In a statement almost two months after the Jan. 6 attack, Capitol Police said it "is aware of and prepared for any potential threats towards members of Congress or towards the Capitol complex." It also said upgrades to security have been made. The Senate plans to meet as it debates the latest pandemic aid bill. (Reuters)

* Biden agrees to limit number of people who will get checks in Covid relief plan (CNBC)

Apple (AAPL) is being investigated over antitrust concerns by the competition regulator in the U.K. The Competition and Markets Authority said Thursday the probe of the iPhone maker follows complaints from software developers about the company's App Store, which has faced increased government scrutiny across the globe. For example, the Arizona House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that implicitly targets both Apple and Alphabet-owned Google's (GOOGL) app stores and their policies around payment for developers. (CNBC)

* Amazon-backed food delivery firm Deliveroo picks London for its blockbuster debut (CNBC)

Executive compensation at Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) will now be partly tied to achieving the company's goals on diversity and the environment. The fast-casual burrito chain's move follows similar steps from Starbucks (SBUX) and McDonald's (MCD) and comes as individual investors and asset managers alike are placing a greater emphasis on environmental, societal and corporate governance (ESG) issues. For Chipotle, some of its environmental goals include raising its level of organic, local or regeneratively grown or raised food. (CNBC)

Walt Disney (DIS) plans to shutter 20% of its brick-and-mortar Disney Store locations, as the company boosts its focus on e-commerce operations. Disney said at least 60 of its locations in North America will close. Globally, there are about 300 Disney Stores. The Covid pandemic led to increased adoption of online shopping, with some saying the health crisis has accelerated the shift that was already in place. Disney did not say how the store closings will impact financial results. (CNBC)

Hedge fund Melvin Capital, which found itself at the center of the Reddit-sparked GameStop (GME) frenzy in January, saw a return of nearly 22% in February. Melvin had been short the video-game retailer before its stock took off as retail traders piled into the name, and the Gabe Plotkin-led fund ultimately declined 53% in January. (CNBC)

A prototype rocket from Elon Musk's SpaceX exploded Wednesday, not long after it landed for the first time following a test flight. It's not clear what caused the explosion, or whether it was intentional. On two previous test flights for the Starship prototype, in December and February, the rockets were unable to slow down enough and exploded on impact during an attempted landing. SpaceX, last valued at $74 billion, is working on the stainless steel Starship with the intention of launching people and cargo to the moon and Mars. (CNBC)

STOCKS TO WATCH

Amazon.com (AMZN) is in talks with the National Football League to carry a significant number of games exclusively on its Prime video service, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke to the Wall Street Journal. The deal could see Amazon pay $1 billion for exclusive rights to most Thursday night games.

Snowflake (SNOW) lost nearly $199 million in the fourth quarter, more than double the year-ago loss for the cloud database software company. Revenue more than doubled as well during the quarter and did come in above consensus forecasts. Following a record IPO for a software company last year, the lockup on the sale of insider shares will expire tomorrow.

American Eagle (AEO) beat estimates by 3 cents with adjusted quarterly profit of 39 cents per share, with the apparel retailer's revenue slightly above Wall Street forecasts. American Eagle is also forecasting its best first-quarter sales in 3 years, driven by growth in its Aerie loungewear and lingerie brand.

Okta (OKTA) is buying customer management software provider Auth0 for $6.5 billion in stock. The provider of identity management software also reported adjusted quarterly earnings of 6 cents per share, compared to consensus forecasts of a 1 cent per share loss, but Okta also gave a weaker-than-expected current-quarter earnings forecast.

Marvell Technology (MRVL) shares are under pressure after the chipmaker issued a disappointing outlook and said chip supplies could remain tight throughout the fiscal year. Marvell did match estimates with its latest quarterly earnings, with revenue coming in above analyst forecasts.

Vroom (VRM) reported a wider-than-expected loss for its latest quarter, although the online used-car seller did see revenue come in above estimates.

Walmart's (WMT) Flipkart unit is exploring the idea of a U.S. listing, possibly through a SPAC merger, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke to Bloomberg. Walmart bought a majority stake in the India-based e-commerce company in 2018.

WATERCOOLER

Rock band Kings of Leon is releasing its latest album, "When You See Yourself," in the form of a non-fungible token. NFTs are digital assets that have their ownership recorded on a blockchain, and their popularity has boomed lately, with even the auction house Christie's selling a piece of NFT-based artwork. (CNBC)