Futures Down After Bank Earnings, Housing Starts

U.S. stock futures were pointing to a lower open, after mixed earnings results from Goldman Sachs and Wells Fargo and mixed news on housing, as starts fell, but permits rose.

U.S. housing starts dropped to an annual rate of 529,000 units, down 4.3 percent from 553,000 in Novermber, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected starts to remain fairly stable at 550,000. Building permits, meanwhile, surged 16.7 percent, to 635,000, the biggest gain since June 2008.

Goldman Sachs posted earnings that narrowly beat estimates on the bottom line, but appeared to miss top-line revenue projections. The company's profit of $3.79 a share was three cents ahead of estimates, but quarterly revenue of $8.64 billion fell short of the $8.99 billion projected.

Wells Fargo, meanwhile, hit estimates square on with a 61 cent per-share profit.

Goldman shares fell nearly 3 percent in pre-market trading while Wells dropped 2.4 percent.

Bank stocks were under pressure on Tuesday in the wake of a disappointing earnings report from Citigroup.

A sharp drop in bond-trading revenue pushed Citigroup fourth-quarter profit far below expectations.

The bank only survived the financial crisis thanks to a massive taxpayer bailout, and Tuesday’s results stoked concern that the bank has yet to resolve its operational weaknesses.

The SPDR Financial exchange-traded fund, which tracks the Standard & Poor's 500 financial sector, was off nearly 1 percent premarket.

Goldman Sachs drew attention earlier this week when it decided to limit a private offering of stock in Facebook to non-U.S. investors because of worries that the deal could run afoul of securities regulations.

The decision was considered a serious embarrassment for Goldman, which had marketed the investment to its wealthiest clients.

Apple and IBM will be in focus among technology stocks after both companies reported quarterly earnings above analyst forecasts after the bell on Tuesday. The tech-heavy Nasdaq were poised to open slightly higher.

IBM's quarterly profit beat Wall Street estimates, and a pick-up in services contracts raised hopes that global companies were confident enough to spend more on technology.

Apple’s first-quarter earnings soared. Apple rose 1.9 percent in before-hours trading, while IBM shares gained 2.3 percent.

Shares of Cree , which makes LED products, plummeted after giving a weak outlook for its current fiscal quarter, although profits in its first quarter soared 47 percent. JPMorgan and Oppenheimer cut its price target for the company.

And Mosaic , a fertilizer company, sank after Cargill said it plans to give up its stake in the company, valued at about $24.3 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported.

President Barack Obama meets his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on Wednesday. The leaders will discuss stronger cooperation between the world's two largest economies during Hu’s formal state visit.

Also in economic news, the Mortgage Bankers Association'sseasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity rose 5 percent in the week ended Jan. 14 as lower mortgage rates prompted a 7.7 percent gain in refinancing applications. Applications for home purchases fell 1.9 percent.

In Europe, stocks were higher on Wednesday morning, extending a recent rally after results from companies such as ASML and Apple boosted investor sentiment.

On the Calendar This Week:

WEDNESDAY: Obama hosts Chinese President Hu; earnings after-the-bell from eBay.
THURSDAY: Weekly jobless claims, existing home sales, leading indicators, Philadelphia Fed survey, oil inventories; earnings before-the-bell from Morgan Stanley, Fifth Third, Huntington Bank, Southwest Airlines, United Health, Union Pacific; earnings after-the-bell from Advanced Micro, Capital One.
FRIDAY: Dodd-Frank rulemaking deadline; earnings before-the-bell from Bank of America, GE, BB&T, Schlumberger and Sun Trust.

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