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Futures Slightly Higher Amid M&A Activity

U.S. stock index futures were slightly higher ahead of the open Monday amid a flurry of merger and acquisition activity.

The move higher Monday morning comes after a fourth straight week of gains for the markets, capped by a Friday rally.

In economic news, about 70 percent of respondents to a CNBC survey said the Federal Reserve will begin quantitative easing,while 80 of those believe the easing will start before the end of the year. The economists, strategists and fund managers surveyed say the Fed will boost its balance sheet by about half a trillion dollars over a six-month period, beginning in November.

In M&A news, Anglo Dutch consumer-goods group Unilever agreed to buy U.S. hair-care groupAlberto Culver for $3.7 billion in cash. Shares of Unilever gained 1.8 percent in premarket trading.

Southwest Airlinessaid it would buy AirTrain holdings, sending AirTran's shares soaring more than 50 percent in premarket trading. The deal was valued at $1.4 billion, or $7.69 a share. The news sent shares of other airline companies higher.

Also in the retail sector, Wal-Mart Stores sought to boost its presence in Africa by offering more than $4 billion for Massmart , a South African wholesaler.

General Electric (CNBC.com's parent company) bought an initial chunk of a 20 percent stake in NBC Universal from Vivendi for $2 billion, the French conglomerate said. Vivendi added it would sell its remaining 12.34 percent in the media group after the approval of Comcast's takeover of NBC Universal.

Over the weekend, Comcast announced that Chief Operating Officer Steve Burke would take the top job at NBC Universal when the deal closes.

In technology news, advance orders for the Apple iPhone 4 exceeded 200,000 in China, after the handset launched on Saturday, according to China Unicom.

On the earnings front, Cal-Maine Foods and Zale will report numbers before the opening bell, while Jabil Circuit and Paychex will post results after the close.

Symbol
Price
 
Change
%Change
CALM
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JBL
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PAYX
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ZLC
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Meanwhile, the Dallas Federal Reserve Survey for September is released at 10:30 am New York time. And the results of a two-year Treasury note auction will be released at 1 pm.

European shares were mixed, but mostly higher due to acquisition news. Moody's downgraded unguaranteed senior debt of Anglo Irish bank, pushing the euro lower against the dollar. Asian stocks ended higher following the strong Friday close on Wall Street.

In commodity news, gold hit a new record as European central banks called a stop to gold reserve sales. Oil was also higher.

On Tap For Next Week:

MONDAY:Texas manufacturing outlook survey, Chicago Fed Midwest Manufacturing Index, 2-year note auction, Schapiro, Breeden, Pitt on future of SEC; BlackBerry's Devcon 2010, FedEx shareholder meeting
TUESDAY: S&P/Case-Shiller home price index; Richmond Fed survey; consumer confidence index; 5-year note auction; Atlanta Fed Pres Lockhart speaks; Barnes & Noble shareholder meeting; HP analyst meeting
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications; oil inventories; Minneapolis Fed Pres Kockerlakota speaks; Philadelphia Fed Pres Plosser speaks; Boston Fed Pres Rosengren speaks; 7-year note auction
THURSDAY: Reading on GDP; Weekly jobless claims; Corporate profits; Chicago PMI; Hearing on J&J recalls
FRIDAY: Personal spending; NY Fed Pres Dudley speaks; Consumer sentiment; ISM manufacturing index; Construction spending; Monthly auto sales; BP's Hayward steps down

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