Morning Brief

What to watch today: Stock futures turn lower after Fed chief Powell comments

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U.S. stock futures turned lower Thursday after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell told NPR's "Morning Edition" that Covid economic stimulus and vaccinations allowed the U.S. economy to recover faster than expected and that central bankers, at some point, may be able to pull back emergency support. (CNBC)

The Labor Department Thursday morning reported 684,000 new filings for unemployment benefits last week. That was much better than estimates for 735,000, and the first time initial weekly jobless claims was below 700,000 since the Covid pandemic began just over a year ago.(CNBC)

Late-day selling reversed gains and dragged the S&P 500 down 0.6% on Wednesday. The Dow dipped lower in the final seconds of Wednesday's session. The Nasdaq dropped 2% after a slightly higher open gave way to a day of selling. (CNBC)

* Cramer advises buying high-quality cyclicals on any weakness (CNBC)
* Traders wonder if tech, GameStop losses mean retail investors losing interest in market (CNBC)
* Today biggest analyst calls: Netflix, GM, Gap, Boeing (CNBC)

Tech stocks were lower despite the 10-year Treasury yield holding below recent a 14-month high as a market rotation out of high-flying growth names continued. The Nasdaq last closed at a record in February. The Dow and S&P 500 last closed at record highs last week. (CNBC)

Oil fell Thursday as fuel demand concerns reemerged alongside worries about steps back in the global fight against Covid. Prices surged nearly 6% on the shipping disruptions caused by the grounding of a giant container ship in the Suez Canal. It could take weeks to clear, according to the CEO of a Dutch company helping with the salvage efforts. (CNBC)

* Satellite imagery shows mega container ship blocking Egypt's Suez Canal (CNBC)

IN THE NEWS TODAY

AstraZeneca has issued updated Covid vaccine numbers from its late-stage trial in the U.S. and Latin America after U.S. health officials earlier this week questioned the accuracy of preliminary data. The U.K.-based drug giant now says its vaccine is 76% effective in protecting against symptomatic cases of virus. A release issued on Monday reported an efficacy rate of 79%. (CNBC)

* Here's a timeline of all the problems AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine (CNBC)

Against the backdrop of rising Covid cases in many states and more than 30 million total U.S. infections, President Joe Biden is set to hold his first presidential news conference. He's expected to point to a surge in vaccinations, encouraging signs in the economy and the benefits Americans will receive from the latest sweeping stimulus package. (AP)

The White House announced Thursday that it's dedicating another $10 billion to try to drive up vaccination rates in low-income, minority and rural communities. More than 25% of the entire U.S. population received at least one vaccine dose, including 14% who have been fully vaccinated. The vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two shots, while Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is only one shot. (AP)

* United Airlines targets Midwest vacationers in summer schedule boost (CNBC)
* Lowe's seeks to stretch pandemic stay-at-home gains into spring (CNBC)

Big Tech leaders Thursday are scheduled to testify at a virtual House panel hearing on efforts to prevent their platforms from spreading falsehoods and inciting violence. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai, whose company owns Google and YouTube, will face increased pressure following the insurrection at the Capitol and Covid vaccine misinformation (AP)

Space infrastructure conglomerate Redwire Space is preparing to go public via a SPAC, the company announced Thursday. Redwire, formed last year by private equity firm AE Industrial Partners, is merging with special purpose acquisition company Genesis Park. (CNBC)

* SEC reportedly opens inquiry into Wall Street’s SPAC frenzy (Reuters)

Fidelity Investments is preparing to launch its own bitcoin fund as the investment giant works to cement its clout in the market for digital assets. FD Funds Management, a subsidiary of Fidelity, said it plans to provide financial backing for an ETF called the Wise Origin Bitcoin Trust. (CNBC)

* Credit Suisse gives junior bankers special $20,000 bonuses, raises after Goldman analyst revolt (CNBC)

STOCKS TO WATCH

Rite Aid (RAD) expects to report a loss for its just-concluded fiscal year, compared to analysts' forecasts of a $125 million profit. The drugstore chain was hit by a 37% drop in sales of cold, cough and flu-related products, as people suffered from these maladies far less due to pandemic-related lockdowns. Rite Aid shares plunged 18.6% in premarket action.

Walgreens (WBA) shares fell 2% in the premarket, possibly in sympathy with Rite Aid. Deutsche Bank also labeled the stock a "catalyst call buy idea," noting short-term issues but saying the Covid vaccine could provide a positive opportunity for Walgreens in both the near and longer-term.

ViacomCBS (VIAC) shares fell 5.5% in Thursday's premarket after a more than 30% tumble over the past two sessions. That followed the company's announcement that it would raise $3 billion through stock sales.

Darden Restaurants (DRI), parent of Olive Garden and other restaurant chains, reported quarterly earnings of 98 cents per share, well above the consensus estimate of 69 cents a share. Revenue beat estimates as well, and although same-restaurant sales tumbled 26.7% from a year ago, that was a smaller drop than the 31.2% anticipated by analysts polled by FactSet. Darden shares rose 4.2% in premarket trading.

Coherent (COHR), a provider of lasers and related technology, accepted a takeover proposal by optical components maker II-VI (IIVI), ending a long bidding battle between II-VI and optical fiber company Lumentum (LITE). II-VI tumbled 8% while Lumentum jumped 7.2% in the premarket.

RH (RH) reported quarterly earnings of $5.07 per share, beating the consensus estimate of $4.76 a share. The Restoration Hardware parent also saw revenue beat analysts' forecasts. RH reported strong demand for its high-end furniture and other luxury products, and expects current-quarter revenue to grow by at least 50%. RH shares surged 8.4% in premarket action.

KB Home (KBH) beat estimates by 10 cents a share, with quarterly profit of $1.02 per share. The home builder's revenue missed analysts' projections despite a 23% rise in net orders and a 4% increase in deliveries. KB Home shares dropped 1.9% in premarket trading.

Nike (NKE) is the target of criticism on Chinese social media for a statement in which the athletic footwear and apparel maker said it was "concerned" about reports of forced labor in Xinjiang. Nike also said it does not source products from the region. The shares fell 4.5% in premarket trading.

H.B. Fuller (FUL) reported quarterly profit of 66 cents per share, 19 cents a share above estimates. Revenue also topped Wall Street forecasts. The maker of adhesives, sealants and other industrial products saw particular strength in health and hygiene-related products, although it saw weakness in construction adhesives. Fuller shares surged 6.2% in premarket action.

Royal Philips (PHG), a health technology company, struck a deal to sell its Domestic Appliances unit to investment firm Hillhouse Capital for about $4.4 billion. The transaction includes the right for Hillhouse to use the Philips brand name for 15 years, with the possibility of renewal. Philips shares added 1.6% in the premarket.