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Futures Slightly Up; Central Banks in Focus

Stock index futures rose slightly ahead of the open Monday as investors waited for direction from Federal Reserve speakers at the start of a week which will see central bank policy decisions take center stage.

Stocks started the second quarter solidly, closing higher on Friday amid optimism over a recovery in the labor market after data showed a drop in unemployment.

The recovery in the jobs market will prompt speculation on when the Federal Reserve will start tightening monetary policy.

The European Central Bank is poised to raise interest rates on Thursdayto curb rising inflation, leaving investors to wonder when other central banks will follow suit.

Comments by Federal Reserve Presidents will be closely watched in light of the ECB’s rate-setting meeting this week. The Bank of England and the Bank of Japan also meet this week.

Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart and Chicago Fed President Charles Evans both speak on Monday morning, while Fed chairman Ben Bernanke speaks at the Atlanta Fed's financial markets conference at 7 pm New York time.

Developments in the Middle East and North Africa continue to keep investors on their toes. Oil pricesrose Monday with U.S. crude at 2.5-year high, reflecting concerns over supply.

There are no major economic releases or market-moving earnings reports due on Monday.

BP is among stocks in the spotlight after The Sunday Times in Britian said the oil group struck a deal with U.S. regulators which allows it to resume drilling in 10 existing wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management refuted the report, saying there was no such deal, Reuters said.

General Electricgained after news Chief Executive Jeffrey Immelt defended the nuclear industry's safety record on a trip to Tokyo.

McCormick & Schmick's Seafood Restaurants skyrocketed after Tilman J. Fertitta said he intends to begin an all-cash offer to buy the seafood restaurant company through his affiliiate LSRI Holdings, a subsidiary of Landry's Restaurants.

McDonald's , meanwhile, traded flat after news the fast-food chain planned to hire 50,000 employeeson April 19 as its business grows.

Later this week, investors will shift their focus to this year’s budget. Lawmakers have until Friday to agree on a budget deal.

On Tap This Week:

MONDAY: Lockhart speaks, Bernanke speaks, Larry Page takes over as Google CEO.
TUESDAY: ISM non-manufacturing index, FOMC Minutes; Lockhart speaks, Kocherlakota speaks, Plosser speaks; earnings from KB Home before-the-bell.
WEDNESDAY: Weekly mortgage applications oil inventories, Treasury STRIPS; Earnings from Monsanto before-the-bell and Bed Bath & Beyond after-the-bell.
THURSDAY: Monthly chain-store sales, Bank of England Announcement, European Central Bank announcement, jobless claims, consumer credit, money supply; Lacker speaks; earnings from Constellation Brands before-the-bell and Rite Aid after-the-bell.
FRIDAY: Wholesale trade.

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