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Premarket: Bernanke in spotlight, Nikkei hits fresh 5 1/2-year high Add to ...

Stock markets aren't straying too far from unchanged this morning, as traders await an important appearance from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke later today.

U.S. and Canadian stock futures are modestly in positive territory, though European markets are a little in the red. In Asia overnight, Japanese equities were again outperforming most other markets, with the Nikkei rising 1.6 per cent to a fresh 5 1/2-year high. The rally was ignited by the Bank of Japan maintaining its pledge to increase cash and deposits at an annual pace of 60 trillion to 70 trillion yen, or as much as $682-billion (U.S.), as the country's aggressive stimulus measures continue.

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Here in North America, all eyes will be on Mr. Bernanke, who speaks in front of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress at 10 a.m. (ET) in his first testimony since February. With some Fed officials in recent days suggesting it may be time to start pulling back in an organized manner the $85-billion in the central bank's monthly bond buying program, Mr. Bernanke is likely to be non-committal on when such a retreat from extraordinary stimulus will begin. But if he drops clues that the Fed is taking an exit strategy more seriously, stock markets - which have largely been driven higher by Fed stimulus measures - could take a tumble. Later today, more clues may arrive as the Fed releases the minutes of its last meeting. 

Commodities this morning are mixed, with copper up more than 1 per cent after Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. said it doesn't know when production can resume at its Grasberg operation in Indonesia after a tunnel collapse last week. Grasberg is the world's second biggest copper mine and the loss of production there is helping to improve the supply surplus for the red metal. Meanwhile, gold is up more than 1 per cent, building on earlier gains, amid softness in the U.S. dollar.

Now, here's the rundown of what else is happening this morning and what's to come.

MARKETS:

Equities:

Futures: S&P Toronto +0.29 per cent; S&P 500 +0.22 per cent; Dow +0.16 per cent; Nasdaq +0.26 per cent

Hong Kong's Hang Seng -0.45 per cent

Shanghai composite index -0.14 per cent

Japan's Nikkei +1.60 per cent

London’s FTSE 100 -0.20 per cent

Germany’s DAX -0.24 per cent

France's CAC 40 -0.48 per cent

Italy's FTSE MIB +0.01 per cent

Commodities:

WTI crude oil (Nymex Jly) -0.16 per cent at $96.03 (U.S.) a barrel

Gold (Comex Jun) +1.13 per cent at $1,393.00 (U.S.) an ounce

Copper (Comex July) +1.85 per cent at $3.41 (U.S.) a pound

Currencies:

Canadian dollar down 0.0046, or 0.46 per cent, at $0.9691 (U.S.)

ECONOMIC INDICATORS TO WATCH:

Canada retail sales were flat in March from February, weaker than economists expectations for a rise of 0.1 per cent. Ex-autos, sales contracted 0.2 per cent.

(10 a.m. ET) U.S. releases existing home sales for April. Economics expect 5 million sales, up from 4.920 million in March.

(2 p.m. ET) Federal Reserve releases minutes of its last policy meeting.

STOCKS TO WATCH:

Target Corp. reported earnings per share of 77 cents in the first quarter, missing Street estimates of 84 cents. It also cut its full-year forecast. Shares are down 2 per cent in the premarket.

Lowe's Cos. reported first-quarter earnings of 49 cents a share, missing Street forecasts for 51 cents. Sales also missed Street forecasts. Shares are down 2.2 per cent in the premarket.

Staples Inc. reported first-quarter earnings of 26 cents a share, down 9.2 per cent from a year ago and missing Street forecasts by 1 cent.

Saks has retained Goldman Sachs to explore strategic alternatives for the luxury retailer, the New York post reported later Tuesday. Shares are surging 19 per cent in the premarket.

Other earnings today include Hewlett-Packard Co.

THIS MORNING'S TOP INVESTING READS ON THE WEB:

Don't put too much faith into the "summer rally" seasonal trend.

10 high conviction purchases by Morningstar's ultimate stock pickers.

Why Warren Buffett, with his magic touch, may be irreplaceable.

Yahoo and Tumblr are just the beginning. Conditions are ripe for a merger mania.

An ETF that follows what the big investing gurus are buying and selling has far outperformed the broader market.

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The premarket report is constantly updated to reflect the latest news developments and market moves. For instant headlines on breaking economic and corporate news in the premarket, follow Darcy Keith on Twitter at @eyeonequities.

Follow on Twitter: @eyeonequities

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