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Futures Edge Up Before Fed Statement

Futures were indicating a slightly higher open for stocks as Wall Street readies itself for the latest Fed statement on interest rates and the economy.

The new day opens with the Dow, the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq coming off fresh 2009 closing highs, with investors now squarely focused on 2:15 pm ET this afternoon. That's when the Fed's Open Market Committee issues the report from its two-day meeting.

While policymakers are widely expected to keep rates near zero, investors will be watching for a more optimistic tone on the economy and perhaps more details on exit strategies for the extraordinary measures implemented to deal with the financial crisis.

Ford helped lift the market's spirits early on, as CEO Alan Mulally said the industry is recovering and he expects sales to rise over the next two years. While Mulally said the domestic market is "looking good" he added that the company is looking to the Asia Pacific market as a major contributor for future sales. Shares rose 2 percent in premarket trading.

Also on the positive side, mortgage applications jumped 12.8 percent last week to their highest level since late May. Interest in home-buying increased as mortgage rates fell below 5 percent.

Shares of Seagate Technology gained 2.7 percent after Deutsche Bank upgraded the small-cap computer disk maker to a "buy," based on expectations for better demand and higher margins.

In earnings, AutoZone narrowly missed analyst estimates with profit of $4.43 for its fourth quarter. Analysts were expecting $4.45; shares fell 1.9 percent premarket.

General Mills reported a higher-than-expected quarterly profit, helped by strong sales in the United States and lower commodity costs, and raised its full-year forecast. Shares gained about 3 percent premarket.

American Airlines parent AMR sold $250 million in convertible senior notes due in 2014. Shares fell 1.3 percent premarket.

And Palm shares edged higher premarket after the company said it expects to raise $313.1 million from a sale of shares at $16.25 each, a 5 percent discount to Tuesday's closing price. Palm shares had been up about 15 percent over the past several days amid talks of a possible takeover bid as traders scurried to cover short positions.

Life insurers could be in focus as well after Morgan Stanley downgraded the group to "in line" from "attractive."

Among the specific firms Morgan targeted were Prudential Financial, which it lowered to "equal weight," and Union Group, which it cut to "underweight." Prudential shares dropped 2 percent premarket.

In other news, at 10 am ET President Obama will speak before the United Nations General Assembly in New York. At 10:30 am, the Energy Department will release its weekly report on crude oil inventories.

Other events of interest include congressional appearances by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and FDIC Chair Sheila Bair, as well as a GAO report on the implementation of stimulus funds, which should be out at approximately 10 am ET.

Also in the news this morning:

Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman has officially launched her bid to become governor of California.

Federal prosecutors say half of the accounts held by Bernard Madoff's customers showed no loss.

Microsoft is reportedly developing a tablet-style PC, according to widely followed technology blog Gizmodo.

JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are moving to overhaul overdraft fees, just as lawmakers prepare to implement sweeping credit card changes.