Big Day For Apple And Earnings Season Begins

Stocks in the U.S. are positioned to move higher on the opening after yesterday's afternoon turnaround. European stock markets are higher, and Asia turned in a mixed performance. Today kicks off the fourth quarter earnings season with the release of Dow component Alcoa's earnings after the bell.

OIL DIP: Oil is weaker again this morning and heading close to the $55 technical level traders are watching.

APPLE IN SPOTLIGHT: Apple's MacWorld will be closely watched to see if the company unveils its new cell phone, as the Wall Street Journal predicts this morning. The Journal says Apple has a deal with Cingular for the much anticipated phone. Our Jim Goldman will be there.

HOT BIOTECH: Healthcare stocks will be in focus today as the JPMorgan healthcare conference continues into a second day in San Francisco. Our Mike Huckman is there and will be talking to executives from a half dozen companies today, including Celgene , Amylin and Mylan .

EMERGING MARKET CHILL: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez plans to tighten his grip on that country's industry. Yesterday, he announced plans to nationalize the country's largest phone company and utilities and increase control of the oil industry. The ADR of CA Nacional Telefonos de Venezuela fell 14 percent on the New York Stock Exchange before being halted in afternoon trading. The implications for U.S. companies has yet to be seen. AES is a majority owners of Venezuela's largest electric utilities, and Verizon has an ownership position in the telecommunications company. Venezuela has also been negotiating to give majority control of four energy joint ventures to its Petroleas de Venezuela. The owners include Exxon , Chevron , and Conoco . Needless to say, investors in Venezuela currency and debt are heading for the exits.

Across the world, the Thai government once more unnerved investors overnight with new restrictions on foreign ownership, following its effort last month to control the flow of capital from the country. .The rules restrict the percent of foreign ownership of Thai companies to less than 50 percent. The Thai baht sold off, and the stock market ended down 2.7 percent. foreign investors from more than 50 percent ownership of Thai

A bright spot in emerging market trading overnight was the debut of China Life. Shares of the insurer doubled on its first day on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, making it the world's third largest insurer by market cap.

EARNINGS EXPECTATIONS: Our Mary Thompson today previews the earnings season. She points out financials will be the standouts. Alcoa is the first to report but the mad rush of earnings reports is about two weeks away.

Strategas Research Partners yesterday made comments on the earnings season, noting it expects year over year growth of 11.4 percent. However, Strategas also said the fourth quarter could be a turning point and made this observation on upside revisions. "Broader earnings aggregates have been more negative in tone in the run-up to earnings season. The percentage of positive earnings revisions to total revisions is currently 39 percent, the lowest reading sine "04," said Strategas in its note.

Birinyi Associates, meanwhile, pointed out an interesting note on the stock market's behavior around earnings season. It said that earnings season has produced less gains during the current bull market than the "off season." Since October, 2002, the cumulative return during the earnings season has been 12.97 percent. Off earnings season is much better. The return has been 55.43 percent. Birinyi calculates the earnings period to be the time between Alcoa's report date to Wal-Mart's report date.