Futures Jump to Kick off Shortened Week

Investors return from the three-day holiday Tuesday and stock index futures pointed to a strong start for the broader markets.

The Dow and the S&P 500 have been unable to muster a two-day winning streak since February 1-2. But the major averages are all positive for the month of February, if only modestly.

Futures were positive though off their highs for the morning after Kraft Foods reported earnings that were slightly ahead of analyst expectations. Kraft shares fell 1.5 percent.

Fellow Dow component Merck matched analyst estimates and its shares rose nearly 2 percent premarket.

Futures also got a boost from Barclays after the second-largest British bank said it started the year off strongly after beating earnings expectations in 2009. Its US-trades shares gained 10 percent in premarket trading.

But the Greek debt crisis continues to be a focus for investors, with European Union ministers pressing Greece for more budget reductions than it's already planning.

It's a light day on the economic calendar, but there are two reports of note.

The Empire State Manufacturing Index, a measure of New York State manufacturing activity, rose to 24.91, much better than expected.

The National Association of Home Builders will issue its monthly sentiment index at 1 pm, and a slight increase in that number is expected as well. Economists predict that the index will arrive at 16 for February, compared with the January reading of 15.

On the earnings calendar this morning, there will be the latest numbers from Abercrombie & Fitch, Qwest, and Waste Management. Whole Foods is the most notable report on the list of companies set to report after the bell.


Among stocks to watch, there is more news on Toyota , with the Financial Times saying the automaker will temporarily halt production at two U.S. factories because of slowing sales. Toyota is also planning an aggressive sales incentive program set to get underway in March.

AstraZeneca signed a $1.2 billion deal for the rights to a next-generation arthritis drug manufactured by Rigel Pharmaceuticals.

And the FT quotes UAL Corp. chairman and CEO Glenn Tilton as saying a merger between his airline and Continental has some logic behind it.

- Written by Peter Schacknow, Senior Producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk.